Preferences for redistribution and state intervention in social policies, as well as the generosity of welfare states, differ significantly across countries. In this paper, we test whether there exists a feedback process of the economic regime on individual preferences. We exploit the “experiment” of German separation and reunification to establish exogeneity of the economic system. From 1945 to 1990, East Germans lived under a Communist regime with heavy state intervention and extensive redistribution. We find that, after German reunification, East Germans are more in favor of redistribution and state intervention than West Germans, even after controlling for economic incentives. This effect is especially strong for older cohorts, who lived under Communism for a longer time period. We further find that East Germans’ preferences converge towards those of West Germans. We calculate that it will take one to two generations for preferences to converge completely.
We combine particular features of the German civil service with the unique event of German reunification to test the theory of precautionary savings and to quantify the importance of self–selection into occupations due to differences in risk aversion. In the presence of self–selection, failing to control for risk aversion in empirical tests of precautionary savings results in a bias that could lead to a false rejection of the theory. We exploit the fact that for individuals from the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) German reunification in 1990 caused an exogenous reassignment of income risks. Our findings suggest that self–selection of risk averse individuals into low–risk occupations is economically important and decreases aggregate precautionary wealth holdings significantly.