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East German women academics outpace western colleagues

Eastern German women academics are performing better than their western counterparts in terms of academic success, income parity with men, and happiness, a German government study has shown.

The study by the Institute for Higher Education Research (HIS) looked at a cohort of A-level students from 1989/90 in east and west Germany to see how east Germans made use of new career possibilities following the fall of the Berlin wall. It found that female east German academics had greater career mobility, and started a family earlier.

Women in general in east Germany were also more likely to study than their west German counterparts.

The pay gap between male and female academics in the east was found to be slimmer than in the west, which could be down to the east’s tradition of equal pay under the former communist regime, the study said. However, west German academics still earn more on average than colleagues in the east, the study showed.

“The goal-oriented career planning of east Germans and the high regard for education in this area are impressive,” said Annette Schavan, the German research minister. “And beyond this, the study shows that education pays off, regardless of where you grew up.”

The study showed that east German academics, regardless of gender, were more satisfied with their career choices and working lives than western academics. It also found that people with academic degrees show a higher life satisfaction than those without, with 79 per cent of those with a degree saying they were “very happy” with their lives, compared to 58 per cent of those without any qualification.

Heike Spangenberg, the researcher who coordinated the study, said the most surprising result was how similarly academics from east and west had shaped their careers, despite their different upbringings and starting points.

“The eastern German students have tackled their new situation pragmatically and have made use of the new chances offered to them,” she said. “We couldn’t find any significant difficulties for them. We were surprised to see how similar their CVs are.”