Friday, April 26, 2019

Germany's Red Belt Area

The so called Black Belt region of the United States is an area cutting across the south east of the country. It is an area which is defined by the highest levels of slave ownership in the 19th century. Even though slavery was abolished in 1865 the legacy of slavery can still be observed in the stark levels of inequality in the region. It also apparent in how the region under performs in many different socio-economic areas compared to the rest of the United States.

Over 150 years after abolition the Black Belt area still often stands out on maps exploring socio-economic data in America. For example you can see the how the Black Belt area shows up prominently in maps as diverse as American mortality rates and IRS targeted areas.

Maps visualizing socio-economic data in Germany also often feature a prominent 'black belt' area. When looking at maps of socio-economic data in Germany the region which often stands out as being economically behind the rest of the country is the former East Germany. In Germany this area is not defined by slavery but by the border of the former German Democratic Republic. So perhaps we should call it Germany's 'red belt' area.

An example of this distinct 'red belt' area can be seen in yesterday's Hamburger Abendblatt. The newspaper released an interactive map of disposable income in Germany in which this 'red belt' is very apparent. On this choropleth map, showing Where Disposbale Income is Highest and Lowest, you can clearly see that on average Germans living in Brandenburg, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt, and Thuringia have less disposable income than Germans living in the former West Germany. On average people living in the former East Germany have around 84.7% of the disposable income of the average West German.

Back in 2014 Zeit Online, in German Unification: A Nation Divided, explored how the former East Germany 'remains visible in statistics'. Twenty Five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall the paper published German maps of average income, the average age, the number of children in day care and in many other areas. In nearly all of these maps you can clearly see that there is a marked difference between the former East and West Germany.

Over 150 years after its abolition the legacy of slavery is still causing huge levels of inequality in the USA. My guess is that Germans living in the area of the former German Democratic Republic won't be facing so many years of inequality. This is mainly because white Germans don't have to battle against institutionalized racism. In fact, if we go back to the Hamburger Abendblatt's map of disposable income, we can see how things might already be changing. The disposable income map of Germany includes a choropleth layer which visualizes the areas which have seen the biggest increases in disposable income since 2011. On this measurement East Germans are doing much better. According to the Hambureger Abendblatt "with an increase of around 13.9 percent, the increase in income in the East was above the national average".

Besides, as the Day Care map in the Zeit Online article suggests, former East Germany doesn't lag behind the former West Germany in every area. One reason why more children are in day care in the  East could be because women face less discrimination in these states than in West Germany. Back in March the Berliner Morgenpost mapped out Where women earn more than men in Germany. The Morgenpost's map reveals that the pay gap between men and women is not so bad for women living in the former East Germany as it is for women living in the west of the country. If you are a woman working in the former East Germany then you are much more likely to earn a similar wage to an East German man. Women who live in the west of Germany are more likely to earn a lot less than the men living in the west of the country.

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