Working Paper
The Transition's Mortality Crisis in East Germany

Several studies have indicated an increase in men's mortality in East Germany between 1989 and 1991 in the wake of the reunification of 1990. For some age-groups, death rates soared by up to thirty per cent. This study investigates the evolution and the causes of such a short term demographic crisis. A preliminary analysis clearly indicates that the reported mortality growth is not just a statistical artefact that could have been due to administrative and statistical adjustments after reunification. The theories generally advanced to explain mortality crises have therefore been tested on the East German case. The hypothesis that the death crisis is related to psychosocial stress and to economic uncertainty does appear to be plausible. The drastic political, social, and economic changes which took place during the first years of the transition from the socialist to the market economy might have caused much individually experienced stress and, in turn, an increase in mortality. The hypothesis is evaluated using detailed regional cause-of-death statistics as well as individual level micro data. The cause-of-death data indicate a rising relevance of circulatory and heart problems, as well as of alcohol and accident-related deaths amongst the age-groups most affected by the hardship of the transition. We find further confirmation for the psychosocial stress explanation in a positive causation between individual health satisfaction and stress and economic uncertainty in the individual level data