The paper provides an extensive descriptive analysis and comparison of recent trends in union formation and fertility in Bulgaria and Russia. The analysis is based on data from the Generation and Gender Surveys (GGS) carried out in 2004. We generate a large number of single- and multi-decrement life tables describing various life course events: leaving home and separation from the parental family, entry into union, first and second childbirth, divorce. Life tables are constructed for real cohorts as well as for synthetic cohorts. We study four real cohorts, born in 1940-44, 1950-54, 1960-64 and 1970-74. Synthetic-cohort life tables are constructed for three periods of time, referring to the pre-transitional demographic situation (1985-1989), the beginning of the transition (1990-1994) and recent demographic developments (1999-2003). We study also Roma and Turkish ethnic groups in Bulgaria. The life tables deliver detailed information that is otherwise unavailable. Our tentative findings indicate that societal transformation had a stronger impact on family-related behavior in the Bulgarian population than in the population of Russia. There is evidence that in some aspects Bulgaria is lagging behind other former socialist and Western European countries where the second demographic transition is more advanced. Evidence also suggests that Russia is lagging behind Bulgaria. However, certain specific features distinctive to Russia, such as the low level of childlessness, a drastic drop in second and subsequent births, and very high divorce rates even compared to Western European countries (it is a long-standing, not just recent trend), lead us to think that Russia may have a model of change particular to the country.
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To demographers, societal commonalities and differences between Bulgaria and Russia give rise to a natural question: How do they shape fertility and family formation in the two countries? Common cultural features include an orthodox religion and a Slavic language and alphabet. Both countries are situated in the East of Hajnal's line defining the Eastern European marriage pattern of early and nearly universal entry into marriage (Hajnal 1965). They have a common political history and were governed by similar political regimes, in Bulgaria until 1989 and in Russia until 1991. However, recent history starting in the early 1990s is different. Bulgaria's transition to democracy is characteristic of a small society with an open economy, heavily dependent on external markets. The country is oriented towards western values and joined the European Union on the 1st of January 2007. Russia's economy is large and not as dependent on the rest of the world as Bulgaria. A priori it can be expected that cultural determinants and longlasting political, economic and societal trends may have a parallel effect on demographic change in the two countries. In fact, in his comparative study of recent fertility change in Central and Eastern European countries, Sobotka (2003) frequently contrasts Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and other former Soviet countries with the Czech Republic and other Central European countries. Philipov and Kohler (2001) report that the start of fertility decline in Bulgaria and Russia in the beginning of the 1990s differed from the one observed in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland.
However, the sweeping recent political, economic and social transformations may have exerted a strong effect on the demographic trends in the countries concerned and as a result may have included considerable diversities along with the commonalities. Societal change may have had an accumulating effect on demographic trends, thus possibly replacing with diversities the uniformity that has been observed until the beginning of the 1990s. Is this the case, however? Did demographic diversities emerge, or did common features prevail until today? …