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Changing mortality patterns in East and West Germany and Poland. I: Long term trends (1960–1997)


OBJECTIVES To examine the long term evolution of mortality in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the period from 1960 and its specific position in health terms compared with the Federal Republic (FRG) in the west and Poland in the east.

METHODS Decomposition of life expectancy by age and cause of death. Differences in life expectancy at birth between the former GDR and the old FRG were decomposed by age using data on all cause mortality for the period 1960 to 1997. Changes in life expectancy over time by cause of death were examined using data for 1974 and 1989 for both parts of Germany and for 1974 and 1988 for Poland.

RESULTS Male life expectancy in the two parts of Germany diverged twice, in the mid-1960s, favouring the GDR, and in the mid-1970s, giving increasing advantage to the FRG, while female life expectancy remained similar until the mid-1970s and began to diverge thereafter. The initial advantage of the GDR was mainly attributable to an improving mortality rate among children compared with that in the west in both sexes. During the 1980s, mortality among men over 15 and women over 40 steadily worsened relative to their western counterparts, although men were doing considerably better than those in Poland who actually experienced deterioration. In the FRG, falling death rates among adults of all ages have contributed substantially to the improvement in life expectancy between 1974 and 1989, largely attributable to falling deaths from cardiovascular disease and from injuries at younger adult ages. In Poland, death rates among male adults have risen at all ages over 35, mostly attributable to worsening death rates from cardiovascular disease and neoplasms while women experienced stagnation. The GDR showed a small worsening among men under 60, counterbalanced by improvements among those over 60, and some improvement in women, attributable to falling deaths from cardiovascular disease among the middle aged and elderly.

CONCLUSIONS This study provides further evidence for the complexity of the east-west mortality differential emerging in the 1960s in Europe, highlighting the intermediate position in health terms the former GDR occupied during much of the communist period. Further research is required to assess the underlying causes for the specific position of the former GDR between east and west.

  • mortality pattern
  • Germany
  • Poland

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  • Funding: EN is supported by a European Commission TMR Fellowship, no FMBICT983062.

  • Conflicts of interest: none.