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East Germany Table of Contents

East Germany

LABOR FORCE

The population, and therefore the labor force, of East Germany, has always been comparatively small. Prior to the 1960s, when birthrates were relatively high, over 2.5 million people left East Germany for the West. Perhaps half of these individuals were twenty-five years of age or younger. Subsequently the birthrate fell, and during the 1970s East Germany, alone among European countries, witnessed a continuing population decline. By the late 1970s, the situation prompted government efforts to promote large families (see Population , ch. 2). According to official East German figures, after World War II the total population fell from around 18.5 million in 1946 to 16.7 million in 1986. The decline occurred despite the fact that in the postwar years some Germans had had to be resettled from the territories in Eastern Europe that had been part of the Third Reich but that subsequently had fallen within the boundaries of Poland, Czechoslovakia, and the Soviet Union.

Beginning in the late 1940s, the East German leadership moved to expand the labor force. First, the government initiated a program to socialize agriculture, reducing the number of people employed in the agricultural sector from 2.2 million in 1949 to less than 1 million in 1970 and to only 874,000 in 1977. In subsequent years, the number of agricultural workers increased slightly, reaching 922,000 in 1985. As a result of the government's policy, well over 1 million persons became available for employment in other sectors of the economy.

Second, and more important, the state effectively mobilized women and brought them into the ranks of the gainfully employed. Whereas in 1949 women had constituted about 40 percent of the labor force, by 1985 that proportion had risen to 49 percent, giving East Germany one of the highest rates of female employment in the world.

As a result of this mobilization, by 1985 the East German labor force was a comparatively large segment of the country's total population, standing at about 51 percent. (According to official figures, 64.8 percent of the population was of working age; about 79 percent of these individuals were employed.) In 1975 the proportion of the retirement-age population was 19.8 percent. According to East German statistics, in 1985 this proportion of the population had dropped to 16.6 percent. Nevertheless, in the mid-1980s the country continued to suffer from a labor shortage. The government was attempting to solve the problem through a more efficient use of labor and through the replacement of workers by robots. In the early 1980s, increasing labor productivity was a major priority in economic planning.

In 1985 the socialist sector employed 98 percent of the work force. Industry accounted for more than one-third of the total work force, the "nonproductive" sector (such as service industries and the state bureaucracy) employed one-fifth of the work force, and agriculture and trade accounted for one-tenth each. The East German Constitution guarantees to all citizens the right to work, and officially there was no unemployment in East Germany. The country's leaders acknowledge, however, that temporary unemployment could occur as a result of rationalization and restructuring.

Although the government was intent upon mobilizing the available labor reserves, it was not insensitive to popular sentiments favoring a shorter workweek. The standard workweek for all workers was reduced to forty-three and three-quarter hours in 1967. In 197, it was further reduced to forty hours for women and forty to forty-two hours for those working shifts. In conjunction with the government's efforts to raise the birthrate, women received substantial opportunities to work part time and increasingly liberal maternal benefits, including extended leave with pay and further reduction in the workweek (see Population Structure and Dynamics , ch. 2).

Data as of July 1987


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East Germany Table of Contents