Academic journal article Demographic Research

Overview Chapter 5: Determinants of Family Formation and Childbearing during the Societal Transition in Central and Eastern Europe

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Overview Chapter 5: Determinants of Family Formation and Childbearing during the Societal Transition in Central and Eastern Europe

Article excerpt


Societal conditions for early and high rates of childbearing were replaced by conditions generating late and low levels of fertility common in Western countries. Central among factors shaping the latter behaviour (job insecurity, unstable partnership relationships, expensive housing, and profound changes in norms, values and attitudes) were the following: increasing proportions of young people were acquiring advanced education, a majority of women were gainfully employed, yet women were performing most household maintenance and childrearing duties. Two theories prevailed to explain what caused changes in family formation and fertility trends. One argues that the economic and social crises were the principal causes. The other considered the diffusion of western norms, values and attitudes as the prime factors of change. Neither reveals the root cause: the replacement of state socialist regimes with economic and political institutions of contemporary capitalism. The extraordinarily low period TFRs around 2000 were the result of low fertility of older women born around 1960 overlapping with low fertility of young women born during the 1970s.

1. Introduction

The abrupt termination of the autocratic and centrally planned systems in Central and Eastern Europe, and the ensuing political, social and economic transition, were historically unprecedented. The fast changing societal environment generated rapid changes in family formation, partnership relationships and childbearing. New, different sets of constraints and incentives for childbearing behaviour emerged in the 1990s. How unique and extraordinary these new conditions were can be better understood by exploring and outlining the broad historical context and developments of the past two centuries.

Once European populations had passed through the industrial and technological revolutions and the demographic transition of the 19th and early 20th centuries, the two halves of Europe divided by the Iron Curtain took very different paths. During the latter decades of the 20th century, the consequences of social and economic developments in the West2 led to an increase in the importance of factors conducive to low fertility rates in many Western European countries. In contrast, during the same period societal conditions in the state socialist authoritarian and centrally planned regimes had developed an environment that was comparatively favourable for early and relatively high rates of childbearing. When the state socialist regimes collapsed in Central and Eastern Europe, the entire societal and institutional system was transformed. Incentives and constraints related to childbearing ended equally abruptly, and were replaced within a period of a few years by a new social, economic and welfare system that is based on the same principles as institutional systems in Western societies. During the 1990s and the early 21st century, young people of prime childbearing age adjusted to these new conditions, which were mirrored by changes in family formation, partnership relationships and patterns of childbearing.

The principal focus of this chapter is to gain a better understanding of the family formation and childbearing determinants during the transition from socialism to capitalism3. Section 2 contains a concise sketch of the secular historical context of European fertility trends up to the second half of the 20th century. Section 3 explores the basic circumstances of the Western European fertility decline from the 1960s through the 1990s. This analysis of Western European developments is justified and relevant because analogous conditions emerged in Central and Eastern Europe after the collapse of state socialism. In section 4, the basic demographic mechanism of fertility trends during the state socialist era is analysed so that these trends can be compared to those of Western countries, as well as to those of Central and Eastern Europe of the 1990s and 2000s. …

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