Low regional inequalities in life expectancy by international standards
Compared to other OECD countries, Germany experiences low regional inequalities in life expectancy despite having comparatively large regional economic inequalities.
Economic inequalities between regions are on the rise in most wealthy countries. Germany is no exception. Researchers have long assumed that this would translate into growing regional inequalities in life expectancy. But in Germany, this is not the case. Although there are comparatively large differences in per capita GDP between German federal states, regional differences in life expectancy are marginal. A team of researchers led by Alyson van Raalte published their findings in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
„The good news is that the differences in life expectancy between the German federal states are small by international standards,“ says Alyson van Raalte, head of the Research Group Lifespan Inequalities at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock.
Inequalities have declined markedly since reunification
Only 30 years ago, at the dawn of reunification, Germans experienced among the highest regional inequalities in life expectancy within the OECD. German women were the leaders in survival inequalities, while German men were just behind the United States. Women have since experienced the sharpest decline in regional life expectancy inequalities, and in a reversal of fortune, are now the leaders in survival equality across regions. “We were surprised to discover just how quickly these regional differences declined following reunification. That’s a remarkable achievement“, says Alyson van Raalte. Even among men, the differences today are moderate in international comparison.
This isn’t only a story of life expectancy convergence across the former East and West Germany. For even within the former West Germany, regional differences in life expectancy have become much smaller since reunification. They’re almost half of their pre-reunification peak. „It may be that the historically unique event of the fall of the Berlin Wall placed a special focus on creating comparable living conditions in a now reunited Germany,“ says Alyson van Raalte. As a result, the economically weaker federal states in former West Germany probably benefited from reunification as well.
About the MPIDR
The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock investigates the structure and dynamics of populations. The Institute’s researchers explore issues of political relevance, such as demographic change, aging, fertility, and the redistribution of work over the life course, as well as digitization and the use of new data sources for the estimation of migration flows. The MPIDR is one of the largest demographic research bodies in Europe and is a worldwide leader in the study of populations. The Institute is part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research organization.
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van Raalte, A., Klüsener, S., Oksuzyan, A., Grigoriev, P.: Declining regional disparities in mortality in the context of persisting large inequalities in economic conditions: the case of Germany. International Journal of Epidemiology (2020). DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ije/dyz265