Inequality in Maps: Poor Germany, Rich Germany

According to the Basic Law, the living conditions throughout Germany should be equivalent. But reality looks different. A new study shows how disparate income, education and infrastructure are distributed.

The findings of the economist are alarming: Germany is one of the "most unequal countries of the industrialized world," notes Marcel Fratzscher in his new book. In it, the President of the German Institute for Economic Research shows how much the development of income and wealth in recent decades has widened the social gap between rich and poor in Germany.

This gap is also one between regions. This is confirmed by a recent study by the SPD-affiliated Friedrich Ebert Foundation (FES). The researchers have compiled 20 different indicators for areas such as income, education or age structure - for more than 400 counties and county-level cities. The result: 20 maps of Germany illustrating inequality in the Federal Republic. (Here you will find the study as a PDF file.)

One main finding: The imbalance between German regions is steadily increasing. Reality has long since given way to the requirement enshrined in the Basic Law of finding equivalent living conditions throughout Germany.

This is already apparent when looking at common measures such as income or unemployment. (Click the buttons in the graph to see the different indicators):

Rich and poor

Even here two gradients are visible: between East and West, but also between North and South. The German powerhouses are mainly located in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg.

Thus, the economic output per employee - unemployed are therefore not significant here - about three times higher in Munich than in Eisenach. At the top are also cities such as Wolfsburg or Ingolstadt, in which car companies have their headquarters, as well as the financial center Frankfurt and the surrounding area. An outlier in East Germany catches the eye: in the Spree-Neiße district, which is an industrial metropolitan area due, among other things, to brown coal mining, every employed person earns an average of 90,900 euros a year.

The map of incomes is almost congruent. Where much is earned, it is also well-earned - with two significant exceptions in the East: The high economic output in the Spree-Neiße border is just as unlikely to be reflected in average incomes as in the Saalekreis.

Private household debt, on the other hand, shows only a small difference between West and East. Here the gradient clearly runs from south to north. The map shows how high the proportion of adults whose expenses exceed income. Conspicuously weak here are regions between Hanover and Berlin, in the Ruhr area and in Schleswig-Holstein. By contrast, people in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania or Brandenburg are apparently less affected than the high unemployment rate would suggest.

However, the quality of life in everyday life is not dependent solely on the individual economic conditions. Much depends also on the public infrastructure. (Click the buttons in the graph to see the different indicators):


Municipalities are responsible for a large part of those institutions that are particularly important to the everyday needs of citizens: schools, day-care centers, streets, gymnasiums, football fields, hospitals or fire brigades. If the money is lacking, it directly affects the quality of life. Many city treasurers had to close because of acute financial hardship even the last remaining swimming pool.

Here, above all, municipalities in North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse and Saarland whistle from the last hole, which at the same time suffer from the structural change from industry and mining to services. Even economically strong western communes such as BASF's home in Ludwigshafen are suffering from high levels of indebtedness. In them too, the poorer citizens are first and foremost affected by the municipal austerity measures.

The supply of doctors is not only related to the economic power: In many parts of Bavaria, but also in Baden-Württemberg or Lower Saxony, the citizens find similarly rare doctors in their area as in Brandenburg or Saxony-Anhalt. In Saxony, on the other hand, this problem does not exist.

Sometimes the spatial distribution of actually independent indicators overlaps strongly - and thus suggests a connection. This applies, for example, to child poverty and the number of early school leavers:

Poor children, weak students

Although the FES researchers do not bring both into context - but it is obvious: Where many children grow up in Hartz IV households, many leave the school without a degree. This is especially true for East Germany. In the affected municipalities of North Rhine-Westphalia, the social situation does not impact as much on school success - but there are also above-average numbers of early school leavers.

This coincides with another finding from the FES study: the weakness - or strength - of regions mostly prevails in several areas at once. Where the economy is already weak and unemployment is high, the birth rate is low and emigration high. Thus, the imbalance between strong and weak regions increases almost by itself.

Therefore, the high rate of early school leavers in the East is also worrying for further development. In addition, many young people leaving school leave East Germany in the direction of the West German economic centers.

The eastern part of Germany is already outdated, while prosperous regions in southern Germany and around Hamburg enjoy a relatively large number of children.

Old and young

The analysis is therefore clear: Germany is also a very unequal country from a spatial perspective. The FES report reveals some of the facets that make this inequality visible, but it largely lags behind with solutions. In the course of the year, three more studies on inequality in Germany are to follow, and the Foundation also collects further contributions on a thematic portal.