The current life expectancy of East and West Germans is different. After the late 1980s, life expectancy at birth in both regions, which was comparable in the early 1950s, became almost three years lower in East Germany. Life-table calculations of German birth cohorts since 1900 revealed that a difference between the groups in cardiovascular disease prevalence was associated with the difference in life expectancy. Whereas migration, environmental pollution, and health-care differences accounted for only a small part of the gap, evidence emerged that lifestyle and social patterns may have caused the less favourable trend in cardiovascular disease. The life-expectancy curve has flattened in East Germany while continuously increasing in West Germany. During the 1960s and 1970s, such opposite trends were due to steeply increasing blood-pressure and cholesterol levels in East Germany and more favourable social development in West Germany--a better average social class (higher educational levels and a lower proportion of working-class individuals), a higher gross national product, and a higher proportion of GNP spent on health. Both the cardiovascular-risk-factor trends and the social gradient have contributed to the gap between the populations of East and West Germany in life expectancy.