Policy seems to play a powerful role in explaining the collapse in full-time employment in the east. Despite some recent changes, the policies of unified Germany, like those of the FRG, still assume that women are wives and mothers first. Joint taxation of married couples, free co-insurance for spouses and tax breaks for "mini jobs", or low-hours contracts, probably did little to encourage women in the west to up their hours, and put those in the east off full-time work.
Attitudes, meanwhile, may help explain part of the lasting hours gap between east and west: 30 years after unification, eastern women are still more likely to approve of full-time working mums. This chimes with earlier findings that east Germans are more likely to have an egalitarian view of the roles of the sexes.
Attitudes have also changed over time, though. Strikingly, women born after 1975 in both the east and west are more likely to disapprove of mothers in full-time work than older ones, putting paid to the idea that younger women are keener on work. Perhaps women's views are shaped by the policies they face. Katharina Wrohlich, one of the report's authors, also suspects that the shift marks a rejection by younger women of both the dual-earner model of the GDR and the single-earner model of the FRG. "Instead the younger generation seems to be aspiring to the one-and-a-half jobs model," she says—a preference that policy may need to respond to in turn.
The unification "experiment" hardly took place in laboratory conditions. Many women migrated from east to west. The regions differ in many other respects—incomes per head are lower in the east, for instance—that also affect the number of hours women work. But the episode still says something about the power of policy and the endurance of attitudes, long after walls are torn down.