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.
WCFIA Working Paper No. 07-12, June 2006