Political regimes and the family: how sex-role attitudes continue to differ in reunified Germany


We exploit the German separation and later reunification to investigate whether political regimes can shape attitudes about appropriate roles for women in the family and the labor market. During the divided years, East German institutions encouraged female employment, while the West German system deterred women, in particular mothers, from full-time employment. Our results show that East Germans are significantly more likely to hold egalitarian sex-role attitudes than West Germans. Despite a scenario of partial policy convergence after reunification, we find no evidence for a convergence process in gender attitudes. Indeed, if anything, the gap in attitudes rather increased.

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    The ALLBUS program was financially supported by the German Research Foundation from 1980 to 1986 and in 1991. Further surveys were financed on a national and federal state (Laender) level via the Gesellschaft Sozialwissenschaftlicher Infrastruktureinrichtungen network.

  2. 2.

    Terwey and Baltzer (2009) provide detailed information on the ALLBUS in general and present all variables available in the cumulated data set from 1980 until 2008.

  3. 3.

    In additional estimations, we drop the “rather agree” and “rather disagree” categories and only use information of those individuals showing strong agreement or strong disagreement. The coefficients of the East dummy now become even larger for five out of our six outcome variables. The results of this robustness check are available from the authors upon request.

  4. 4.

    In controlling for education, we eliminate any indirect effects that political regimes may have on gender role attitudes through the education channel. Regimes that promote a male breadwinner model are less likely to induce female human capital investments than regimes which encourage female employment.

  5. 5.

    Also for the subsample of individuals born before 1975, we cannot find evidence for the hypothesis that the availability of West German TV in East Germany before Reunification mattered as far as our outcome variables are concerned. However, more detailed data on the availability of West German TV in the regions of the former GDR might well be able to detect impacts.

  6. 6.

    Since this mobility information is not available for 1996 and 2008, we drop all observations from those years.

  7. 7.

    Theoretically, the effect of high regional unemployment on gender-role attitudes is ambiguous. On the one hand, high regional unemployment rates might discourage women from joining the labor force and rather render them housewives, which could in turn lead to more traditional family values. On the other hand, if high regional unemployment endangers the job of the husband, a wife might just as well join the labor force and search for a job herself in order to minimize the negative effects for the family arising from her husband getting unemployed (see, e.g., Kohara 2010). Last but not least, causality might also run from sex-role attitudes to unemployment. If people hold the view that a working mother is not harmful to children or the family, women might look for jobs on the labor market, which in turn increases the labor force and ceteris paribus the unemployment rate.

  8. 8.

    This question was only asked in the 1991, 2000, and 2008 surveys.

  9. 9.

    The results from these additional regressions are available from the authors upon request.

  10. 10.

    In West Germany, there have been lively discussions for years about increasing child care resources and thus allowing women to combine both having a family and a career. However, the child care system in today’s West Germany is still far from being elaborated.


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We are indebted to the responsible editor, Junsen Zhang, and two anonymous referees for helpful comments and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Helmut Rainer.

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Responsible editor: Junsen Zhang



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Bauernschuster, S., Rainer, H. Political regimes and the family: how sex-role attitudes continue to differ in reunified Germany. J Popul Econ 25, 5–27 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-011-0370-z

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  • Political regimes
  • Gender-role attitudes
  • German reunification

JEL Classification

  • J13
  • J16