This paper employs the German reunification “experiment” to study how sudden access to previously unavailable financial products, supported by knowledgeable practitioners, influences participation. Findings provide new perspectives on participation and inertia. Controlling for characteristics, East Germans experienced a jump in securities participation to a level comparable to West Germans’ participation immediately following reunification, and to an even higher level for consumer debt, while exhibiting inertia in previously accessible products. They showed no signs of subsequent retreat. Lower financial resources are the most important characteristic explaining lower East German participations in all asset classes, while expectations and peer effects are important drivers of the high East German debt participation. Average income among the new peers has had larger effects on East than on West German participation in both securities and consumer debt.
This is a revised version of a NETSPAR working paper from 2015: “Does product familiarity matter for participation?”