Bernhard Köppen, Norbert F. Schneider. Demographics of Korea and Germany: Population Changes and Socioeconomic Impact of Two Divided Nations in the Light of Reunification. Leverkusen-Opladen: Barbara Budrich-Esser, 2018. 127 pp. $49.00 (paper), ISBN 978-3-8474-2152-8.
Reviewed by Douglas Peifer (US Air War College)
Published on H-War (February, 2019)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)
How does the study of history help those charged with preparing for future contingencies? On the one hand, historians and political scientists warn against using history to draw misleading lessons based on facile analogies to past experiences. On the other hand, they also argue that an appreciation of history is vital to understanding the present and equips the mind with critical thinking skills necessary for tackling future challenges. While aware of the dangers of false analogies, the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs approached the German Federal Institute for Population Research to collaborate on a project examining the demographic repercussions of German reunification as a basis for Korean scenarios on “reunification demography.” This slim volume devotes most of its 127 pages to examining German demographics before and after reunification, shifting to Korean demographics and the relevance of the German experience to Korea in its last 20 pages.
The section on German demographics starts with an overview of various models and theories explaining the demographic repercussions of reunification. “Catch up modernism” predicted that East German demographics would gradually mirror West German demographics after reunification as East German industry, employment, and economic patterns caught up with those in West Germany. Divergence theory, in contrast, projected that demographic patterns would remain distinct, with “multiple modernities” existing in parallel in a reunified Germany. Hybridization theory entertained the notion that one could expect both areas of convergence and divergence. The authors assert that a careful examination of fertility, mortality, and migration patterns in Germany before and after reunification reveals areas of demographic convergence alongside persistent areas of differentiated behaviors. “Catch up modernism” did not adequately explain behavior patterns, while the concept of parallel modernities failed to anticipate the significant convergence in the data.
The main strength of this study is not its theoretical insights but the wealth of data it provides on East and West German fertility, mortality, and migration patterns. Did East and West German women marry at different ages and have different fertility rates? Yes and no: the patterns were quite similar in the 1960s, diverged in the 1970s and 80s with East Germans having more children, and then swung sharply in the other direction in the 1990s as employment plummeted and day care centers in the East closed. How many East Germans emigrated to the West during the heyday of the GDR, and how many during the period November 1989 to October 1990? How many “Wessies” moved East after unification? Is it true that more East German women moved West than did East German men, and how has this affected the sex ratio in rural areas and major cities? This short book provides statistics to these and dozens of other questions, summarizing its findings on issues ranging from age structure to unemployment rates to life expectancy to the share of migrants in German provinces in thirty-nine figures and sixteen tables.
Those seeking to learn from German reunification in preparing for similar scenarios elsewhere will find this study useful in terms of the data it provides but less so in terms of its policy analysis and recommendations. The study does not address political behavior, nor does it make policy prescriptions. The study provides no data on voting patterns, on the impact of reunification on party dynamics, nor on attitudes towards immigrants, the AfD (Alternative für Deutschland), or the European Union. It does, however, confirm that regions in the former GDR experienced brain drain in the 1990s, that their employment, fertility, and mortality rates continued to diverge from those in the former FRG a decade after reunification, and that areas in the East are now older, less populated, and less balanced in terms of male/female population than before reunification. The study indicates that despite some areas of divergence (female labor participation rates, births out of wedlock, foreign migration), by 2015 fertility, mortality, and life expectancy rates had converged. Most heartening, when asked in 2014 whether reunification has been a benefit or disadvantage for Germany, 79 percent of respondents in the former West indicated it has been a benefit, with an even higher percentage (80 percent) in the former East responding in the affirmative (table 10, p. 80).
The final section, on Korea, provides a handy reference for North and South Korean population totals, aging patterns, fertility rates, and levels of employment. The authors note that Korean reunification will present problems of a different scale simply because of the demographics: while the former Federal Republic of Germany had a population roughly four times greater than that of the German Democratic Republic, South Korea has only twice the population of North Korea. In addition, the two Koreas have been separated for more than six decades, and divergence between their economies is even more pronounced than was the case in the two Germanies of 1989. Recognizing that much of the data on North Korea is speculative and that the context and contours of a potential Korean unification are unknown, the book concludes that German reunification provides no blueprint but a valuable knowledge base. This conclusion, while perhaps unsatisfying, is correct. The authors believe the study contributes to the field of comparative reunification research, but warn that it is neither a comprehensive analysis of German reunification nor a strategic recommendation for Korea.
. Francis Gavin, "History and Policy," International Journal 63, no. 1 (Winter 2007-08): 162-77; Margaret MacMillan, Dangerous Games: The Uses and Abuses of History (New York: Modern Library, 2009); Ernest R. May, "Lessons" of the Past; the Use and Misuse of History in American Foreign Policy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1973); and Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision-Makers (London: Collier Macmillan, 1986).
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Douglas Peifer. Review of Köppen, Bernhard; Schneider, Norbert F., Demographics of Korea and Germany: Population Changes and Socioeconomic Impact of Two Divided Nations in the Light of Reunification.
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