Indeed, in the first decade, incomes for Germans from top to bottom on the economic ladder rose by about 7 to 8 percent in real terms. But with the advent of the euro, things started to change. Incomes at the top kept rising, with gains for the top 10 percent of earners continuing apace for the next decade as shareholders reaped record profits. At the bottom, however, there was a sharp dip that eventually left incomes exactly where they started at the beginning of the 1990s.
The effect on inequality was startling. By itself, the integration of East and West should have reduced German inequality substantially. In a country where labor retained some bargaining power, the export boom might have been expected to encourage this convergence as well. Yet Germans at the top of the income distribution saw such an upturn in their fortunes that inequality actually rose. With incomes continuing to diverge, Germany’s wealth inequality was the worst in the eurozone and almost on a par with that of the United States, which was no mean feat.