Academic journal article Demographic Research

Bulgaria: Ethnic Differentials in Rapidly Declining Fertility

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Bulgaria: Ethnic Differentials in Rapidly Declining Fertility

Article excerpt


This chapter provides a detailed description of the fertility changes in Bulgaria during recent decades and discusses possible reasons and consequences. It also gives an overview of the steps that the government has undertaken to offset the considerable decline in fertility. Before the fall of communism, fertility trends in Bulgaria were stable and characterized by a nearly universal entry into parenthood, dominance of a two-child family model, an early start and early end of childbearing, stable mean ages at entry into childbearing and marriage, and low percentages of non-marital births. During the 1990s and in the first years of the new century, we observe a marked, rapid change in fertility behaviour. Together with the severe decline in overall fertility rates, demographic data reveal a significant postponement of entry into motherhood and marriage, a decline of the two-child family model, and an emergence of new family forms. Most research attributes these changes to the particular political and social situation in Bulgaria since 1989.

1. Introduction

The political events of 1989 in the former socialist countries marked the start of huge transformations, two of which were the change from a centrally planned economy to a market economy, and the transition from an autocratic to a democratic society. The political and socio-economic reforms in each country started from different levels and developed at various rates. Essential differences still persist in the cultural and political structures of these countries, as well as in the stages of their economic development, especially regarding the role of the public sector and the quality of life (Holzer 1995). Bulgaria belongs to the group of these countries where the societal transition proceeded more slowly, faced more difficulties, and was more painful (Heikkilä and Kuivalainen 2003). The profound economic crises, political instability, anomie, and decline in social integration all resulted in a lower quality of life and in more disenchantment, aggression, and escapism (Genov 1998).

All these changes influenced demographic developments in Bulgaria. Before 1989, the demographic indicators of family and fertility behaviour in Bulgaria were rather stable. Philipov (2001) characterized the fertility behaviour of that era as one of "an early start and early end to childbearing, prevalence of the two-child family model, low extra-marital fertility." Since 1986, the population of Bulgaria, which then numbered almost 9 million people, has diminished by almost one million and in the 2001 census was 7 932 984 (National Statistical Institute (NSI) 2001). The sharp decrease in the population is a combined result of a negative natural increase and high emigration. The population decline of about 500 000 people between 1986 and 1992 persons was due mainly to the massive emigration of ethnic Turks fleeing the former socialist regime; in 1989 alone, about 330 000 left the country. This outflow continued in subsequent years, but about a third of the emigrants later returned to Bulgaria. Kaltchev (2001) estimated that the population decrease during the period between the last two censuses in 1992 and 2001 can be split into a negative natural increase of about 337 000 and a decrease of 221 000 due to emigration. The natural increase of the population was negative for the first time in 1990 (-0.4 per thousand) and has stayed well below the zero level since then - in 2005 it was -5.4 per thousand (NSI 2005).

The purpose of our study is to describe in detail the on-going changes in fertility in Bulgaria and to facilitate comparative analyses with other European countries. In explaining the reasons for these changes we refer to the well-known theories of economic and ideational change. We also detail the recent changes in population policies and the actions taken by the government to improve the demographic situation in the country.

The data we use to describe fertility rates come mainly from vital statistics. …

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