The Self-Employed

Germany Table of Contents

The self-employed provide a service on their own or are the owners of firms that provide a service or a product. In West Germany in 1989, the self-employed constituted 8.8 percent of the workforce, compared with 16.0 percent in 1950; their decline was even steeper in East Germany, from 20.4 to 2.2 percent over the same period. The self-employed are a heterogeneous group, encompassing shipping magnates and seamstresses and artists and gas station owners. As a result, the earnings of the group's members vary considerably--some members are wealthy, most rank in the upper middle or middle class in terms of income and social prestige, and some (about 7 percent of this group) are poor. Excluding farmers, annual household income of the self-employed in the old Lšnder in 1991 amounted to about DM150,000, almost triple the average household income.

As property owners and food producers, farmers are a small but significant part of the self-employed. In both Germanys, the number of farmers fell dramatically in the postwar era: in the west, from 5 million (or 10 percent of the population) in 1950 to 864,000 (or 1.4 percent) in 1989; in the east, from 740,000 in 1951 to only 3,000 in the early 1990s.

A typical agricultural enterprise in the old Lšnder is a small- or medium-sized farm worked by the owner, assisted by one or two family members. Some farmers are wealthy, while others only earn a bare subsistence. Farmers' average household income is lower than that of most other self-employed but is about 25 percent higher than the national average.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress