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Statistical Report on the Development of the Standard of Living in the German Democratic Republic and in the Federal Republic of Germany (1956)

The planned economy of the GDR aimed chiefly to secure the basic needs of the population. This 1956 report by the State Planning Commission of the GDR revealed that East German citizens paid less for housing, heat, transportation, rationed basic foodstuffs, and education than citizens of West Germany. According to the statistics, wages were higher than in West Germany, and purchasing power was only slightly lower. However, considerable differences to the disadvantage of the GDR emerged if one looked at the entire palette of foodstuffs as well as high-quality consumer goods such as cars and televisions. Added to this were the poor quality of many goods and the supply bottlenecks that affected daily life but were only partly reflected in the statistics of the Planning Commission.

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State Planning Commission of the German Democratic Republic

I. Overall Assessment of the Development of the Standard of Living in the GDR and in West Germany

Standard of living refers to the material and cultural level of a population’s lifestyle. The standard of living of the population and its development are measured through a system of statistical indicators. The present report contains especially indicators that provide a comparative assessment of the development of the material and cultural life of the population in the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic from 1950 to 1955. The selection of indicators depends essentially on the possibility of comparing the various indicators from West German statistics with the relevant data from the statistics in the GDR. For that reason, complete data for all years in the various categories is not possible in every case. Thus, in comparing and assessing the statistical series, one must always pay attention to the methodological notes attached to the various charts.
What follows is a brief evaluation of the various indicators:

1) The development of wages for industrial workers
Average gross hourly wages for industrial workers in the GDR are higher than wages for industrial workers in West Germany, both in the Socialist industries and in industry overall. Gross weekly earnings are higher than in West Germany in all sectors of industry, with the exception of the sectors cellulose and paper and polygraphy.

2) The development of weekly work hours in West Germany
Average weekly work hours of male industrial workers exceeded the 50-hour threshold in 1955. If one compares the length of the weekly work period with the work period in 1938, the weekly work period for all industrial workers in West Germany already exceeded the weekly work period in 1938 in 1954/55. By contrast, the average weekly work period in the GDR does not deviate from the 48-hour week.

3) The development of the tax burden on the population
In the income group (gross) of wage and salary earners of
380.00 DM (tax bracket II and III)
and 760.00 DM (tax bracket I, II, and III) per month,
payroll tax deductions are higher in the GDR than in West Germany. However, since 1951 the per capita payroll tax in the GDR has been lower than in West Germany. In 1954, the per capita payroll tax was 65 DM in the GDR and 88 DM in West Germany. By contrast, the per capita excise tax in the GDR is higher than in West Germany.

4) The development of retail prices
Retail prices overall in the GDR are above the level in West Germany. Prices for fuel and heating fuel, as well as for rationed food items (meat and meat products, fats, sugar and confectionaries, eggs, whole milk, and potatoes) are an exception.
These rationed and, compared to West Germany, much lower-priced goods make up a considerable percentage of the commodities supply plan in the GDR. [ . . . ]

5) Development of the cost of living for a worker family of four
The total cost of living index, relative to the prices of 1936, is higher in the GDR than the index for West Germany. However, the development in the different categories of goods varies. Expenses in the GDR for the categories “Food,” “Semi-luxury goods,” “Clothing and Repairs,” and “Household Goods” are higher than the expenses incurred by a West German worker family of four when purchasing the same volume of goods. For food, the costs (based on the same volume of goods for the GDR and West Germany) are 22.1% higher than in West Germany, compared to the price level of 1936; for semi-luxury goods, 16.7% higher; for clothing and repairs, 86.2% higher, and for household goods, 50.3% higher.
The situation is reversed for the categories and services “Housing,” “Heating and Light,” “Cleaning and Personal Hygiene,” “Education and Entertainment,” and “Transportation.” Compared to the price basis of 1936, prices for housing are 15.3% higher in West Germany than in the GDR, 72% higher for heating and light, 7.6% higher for cleaning and personal hygiene, 28.1% for education and entertainment, and 2.8% for transportation rates. In assessing the cost of living index, one must bear in mind that the goods on which the calculations are based ignore the at times considerable differences in quality that exist between products in the GDR and in West Germany.

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