Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Beyond Bundesmutti: Gender and Political Participation in Reunified Germany

After World War Two, Germany was divided into two states: the American-influenced BRD (West Germany) and the Soviet-influenced DDR (East Germany). While West Germany initially attempted to revert to "normal" gender roles after the war (Rueschemeyer 2009), East Germany's new government was ideologically committed to promoting gender equality, especially in the form of women's workforce participation.

When the two Germanies reunified in 1990, it certainly looked like East Germany had succeeded. 90% of East German women worked, while only 60% did so in West Germany (Rueschemeyer 2009). 1/3 of the Volkskammer (East German legislature) members were women (Rueschemeyer 2009) before the government collapsed, and East German women often played major roles in the community projects and political groups that reunification generated (Rueschemeyer 2009). While women in West Germany had been forced to fight from the bottom up for things like a married woman's right to work without her husband's permission (Wangerin 2010) and maternity leave (Rueschemeyer 2010) before those at the top joined the push for equality (Woodward 2012), women in East Germany were brought into the workforce with the help of top-down policies such as state childcare, free contraceptives, and generous maternity leave (Rueschemeyer 2009). When East Germany was absorbed into the BRD, the disappearance or reduction of many of these services and reluctance on the part of East German women to leave the job market and become housewives contributed to a soaring unemployment rate in the former East Germany (Wangerin 2010, Rueschemeyer 2009).
Angela Merkel and the Rhombus of Power

Since state ideology certainly seems to have an effect on women's employment rates and attitudes toward work in the former Germanies, I wondered what effect the differing ideologies might have had on women's political participation. On the surface, it seemed like East Germany's official emphasis on women's emancipation might have left a legacy of high political participation by women–after all, Putin's main contender for the title of "Most Powerful Person in Europe" is an East German woman. However, one highly visible success story is not enough to prove a point. To get a better idea of variations in women's political participation by region, I decided to examine voting rates and the rate at which women were directly elected to the Bundestag (legislature). This meant that I could analyze both everyday participation and elite participation, which would provide a better picture of what was going on.

For my analysis of voter participation, I used voter demographics data provided by the German government. Although I wanted to focus on the Bundestag elections from 1990 (right after reunification) to 2013, the data from the 1994 and 1998 elections were mysteriously absent. This forced me to omit those years. In the years that data was available for, the data was already broken down by gender and region, and gave percent participation for each gender in the East and the West. I calculated the difference between men's percent participation and women's percent participation in each of these regions. It was important to do this by region because voting rates are lower overall in former East Germany. The chart above shows the differences (by percent) between the genders. A positive number indicates that the percentage of men voting was higher than the percentage of women, while a negative number indicates the opposite. Although the difference doesn't look that big, it is worth noting that men were consistently voting slightly more than women in the West, while women were consistently voting slightly more than men in the East. A t-test determined that there was a statistically significant difference.

The implications of this are really interesting to consider. Voter participation is lower in the East, but women participate a little more relative to men in the East than they do in the West. They still have lower participation rates than their counterparts in the West, but they seem to be the more committed group of voters in the East. Although four disillusioning decades in a single-party state is almost definitely a contributing factor to the East's lower voting rates, can the DDR also be credited with women's slightly higher participation rates? Variables like religion (atheism is especially prevalent in the East) are probably playing a role, but the effect that the DDR had on women's voting rates merits further study.

To analyze elite political participation, I used the results from the 1994 and 2013 Bundestag elections. I focused on directly elected candidates because gender seemed less likely to be a factor in the election of party list candidates. In this analysis, data from Berlin had to be excluded because it was too difficult to tell which districts had been in which area of the city during its division. Ignoring Berlin, I found that in 1994, 13.7% of the directly elected MdB from the West were women, while 13.6% of those from the East were women. In 2013, 20.3% of directly elected MdB from the West were women, while 24.5% of those from the East were women. Although there was no statistically significant difference between East and West, there was clearly an overall increase in the rates at which women were being elected. However, the fact that I was focusing on only two elections, only had data on who had won (not on everyone who had run), and didn't know which districts were considered safe for a certain party limited what I could determine from this analysis. In the future, it would be interesting to see whether the rates at which women are running for office coincide with the rates at which they are winning election. I would also be interested to see if parties could be favoring a certain gender in nominating candidates for safe districts.

Overall, I felt my study mostly taught me how much is still unknown. There appear to be at least some gender differences between East and West Germany, but the complexity of the other issues surrounding German reunification and the relative newness of Germany as a unified country make it difficult to determine how significant and deeply-rooted these differences truly are.

1 comment: