This paper sheds light on the transferability of human capital in periods of dramatic structural change by analyzing the unique event of German Reunification. We explore whether the comparatively low labor productivity in East Germany after reunification is caused by the depreciation of human capital at reunification, or by unfavorable job characteristics. East German workers should have been hit harder by reunification the more specific human capital was. Treating both human capital and job characteristics as unobservables, we derive their relative importance in explaining the low labor productivity
by estimating a spatial structural model that predicts commuting behavior across the former East-West border and the resulting regional unemployment rates. The identification of the model is based on the slope of the unemployment rate across the former border: the larger the human capital differences between East and West,the less commuting across the border takes place, and the sharper is the increase of the unemployment rate at the former border. The results indicate that East and West German skills are very similar, while job characteristics differ significantly between East and West. Hence, they suggest that a significant part of the human capital accumulated in the East before 1990 was transferable.