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Return migration to East Germany: Spatial patterns and the relevance for regional labor markets


  • Michaela Fuchs
  • Antje Weyh


Against the background of bad labor market conditions with high unemployment, poor job prospects, and low wages, East Germany used to experience long-standing high net migration outflows. During the last years, however, the situation on the East German labor market changed fundamentally, and employers nowadays increasingly experience problems with the recruitment of qualified workers. One popular way to stabilize labor supply has become the systematic approach of East Germans who migrated to West Germany to induce their return. So far, however, the few empirical studies on this topic have relied on survey data or case studies, thereby providing only selective insights on return migration to East Germany. It is thus still an open question how many return migrants there are, which regions they return to, and how relevant their return would be for the local labor markets. In this paper, we analyze labor-market related return migration from West to East Germany and provide some answers to the question on the relevance for local labor markets. Using a unique data set that covers all labor market participants in Germany, we trace the migration and employment history of East Germans as of December 31st, 2012 from 1999 onwards. Our research adds to the existing literature in several ways. First, complementing survey-based findings, we provide detailed and comprehensive descriptive evidence on migration from West to East Germany. Second, we map the spatial migration patterns of the return migrants on the level of NUTS3-regions. Special emphasis is given to the relocation of the place of living only against the simultaneous relocation of the place of work. Third, we take a detailed look at all labor market participants. Apart from employees liable to social security, we consider unemployed, apprentices, and marginally employed. For all four groups, we investigate whether they maintained or improved their labor market status by migration. This way, we contribute to the discussion on the relevance of economic motives versus social ties as motives for return migration. Our results provide good news for the East German districts directly at the former intra-German border, the larger cities and the regions surrounding Berlin that might well profit from return migration for the stabilization of regional labor supply. However, for the remaining mostly rural regions they rather provide bad news.

Suggested Citation

  • Michaela Fuchs & Antje Weyh, 2015. "Return migration to East Germany: Spatial patterns and the relevance for regional labor markets," ERSA conference papers ersa15p835, European Regional Science Association.
  • Handle: RePEc:wiw:wiwrsa:ersa15p835

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    More about this item


    return migration; regional labor markets; East Germany;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • J30 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - General
    • R23 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Household Analysis - - - Regional Migration; Regional Labor Markets; Population

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