One of the most emphasized population issues in nowadays European societies is the persistent low-fertility and, if maintained sufficiently long, it is also the most important factor of ageing process and of population decline. Almost without exception countries fertility is below replacement level in Europe. Among them, the former socialist-countries and those from southern Europe have very low fertility, or lowest-low fertility, i.e. below the European average, calculated by Demeny (2003) as 1.37 children per women in 2000.
An important flow of scientific literature deals with theories, models, causes, and consequences of fertility decline, and national or international comparative studies try to find out the mechanisms behind these fertility developments. Not surprisingly, deeper analyses concern especially western countries, since they disposed more proper data for causal analyses. Classical studies, using macro-level data, were done as well for Eastern-European countries (for example the Frejka book from 2008), but those revealing mechanism behind manifestations, and using individual-level data, are more scarce. The new developments in fertility and family behaviors in former socialist-countries are very similar in manifestations with those in the western countries; however we suspect that the mechanisms behind them are quite different. We would like to deepen the field and form a research group dealing with the particularities of childbearing evolutions in East-European countries, with focus on the period following political turnover, when former pro-natalist policies vanished, and on the factors which played the main roles.
Fertility research has benefited greatly from decomposition and proximate determinants approaches. The former disaggregates fertility into constituent parts to assess which ones are responsible for overall change, distinguishing between timing and quantum effects. The latter links fertility to its most important proximate causes; in turn, these proximate causes become factors to be
understood. The rationale for this level of explanation is that it identifies more precisely what needs to be explained.
Shifts to later childbearing are a significant part of the contemporary story of very low fertility. But the end of postponement would still leave many countries with fertility well below replacement. Low fertility explanations thus must account for both fertility postponements (changes in timing) and for fewer births per woman (lower quantum). The causal explanation may differ for these two components and decomposition analyses push researchers to understand these twin causes: fertility postponement and fewer births.
In settings where birth control and abortion are available and widely used, decisions to have children play a central role in models of fertility by linking more distal determinants to fertility. This framework does not suggest that intentions always play a dynamic role in contemporary fertility change. In fact, in developed countries fertility intentions have changed little in the past two decades and vary little across developed countries; there exists a remarkably persistent and pervasive desire for two children. Thus, cross-country and cross-time variation must be explained by timing changes and by women’s/couples’ ability and determination to realize intentions.
The weakness of the decomposition and proximate determinants approaches is that they leave the fundamental or exogenous cause unspecified. As a result, these explanations are only partial and beg the question: why is it that childlessness is greater or intentions are more likely to be met in one country compared to another?
Few would dispute that the transition from high to low fertility results from industrialization and post-industrialization that increased costs of bearing and raising children. The timing of these fertility declines related to particular aspects of socioeconomic change was variable because populations had to recognize and conceptualize changing child costs and rationalize new fertility regulation behaviors. The new fertility regime was one of small families. No country has become economically developed without experiencing the transition to small families.
But this powerful explanation for the fertility transition is not very useful for explaining variation in low fertility or for predicting its future course. Instead, there are two competing explanations. The first focuses on the cost of childbearing and rearing in all contemporary settings. But it views the degree of incompatibility as variable, contingent on a set of society-specific factors that decrease/increase incompatibility. For instance, all developed countries have experienced increases in female labor force participation. However, some societies experience increases in women’s labor force participation with little change in fertility; for others, similar changes have accompanied sharp fertility declines. To account for these variable responses, one needs to document the institutional factors that make life-long education, work and family more or less compatible for women in some countries than in others. The most complete explanations require idiosyncratic explanations. But general patterns can be described. Peter McDonald (2000) argues that societal gender equality reduces work/family incompatibility. Specifically, when women enter the workforce but other institutions (e.g., the family, gender relations) do not make adjustments, it makes the joint roles of mother/worker very difficult. Some employed women resolve this incompatibility by having no or only one child. Greater gender equality (accompanying increases in women’s non-family work) eases women’s work/family burden. Such adjustments facilitate women having the moderate number of children that they intend. The state can also respond with policies that encourage gender equality and that recognize the burden of bearing and caring for children. Public provision of children’s health care and day care provide important examples. Finally, the market can respond; examples include widely available flextime for employees and consumer goods and services that substitute for home production.
A second explanation for variation in low fertility focuses on a putative irreversible shift toward an ideology that stresses individualism and self-actualization. This ideology encourages women/couples to consider whether becoming a parent or having another child would make them happier or their life more meaningful. Dirk Van de Kaa (2001) and Ron Lesthaeghe and Willems (1998) argue that this spreading ideology has fostered a second demographic transition later union formation, greater cohabitation, frequent union dissolution, and very low fertility. Given the very high direct and indirect costs of childbearing and rearing, and this ideology that makes parenthood one of a range of acceptable lifestyles, subscribing authors are pessimistic about fertility recuperating to approximate replacement levels.
A key unanswered question is whether countries now undergoing a fertility transition will experience fertility well below replacement levels in the coming decades. Current evidence and theory suggest that settings with great gender inequality may experience the most dramatic fertility declines as women in these societies undertake non-familial employment. However, the experience of developed countries may encourage more rapid adoption of strategies to reduce work/family competition for women’s time and energies. The widespread adoption of effective policy responses is a second plausible scenario. Thirdly, some societies may be able to maintain fertility at/above replacement levels by embracing fundamentalist ideology or identifying motherhood/parenthood strongly with group identity. Such cultural/ideological responses gird families and women to accept the high costs of parenthood.
Finding out fertility mechanism in countries that already have low fertility is important for the course of future fertility. Fertility postponement explains a significant part of contemporary very low fertility, but when postponement abates, many countries will still have fertility levels well below replacements levels. One of the key questions for the twenty-first century is whether and how effectively societies will respond. Comparative research can contribute by identifying effective responses or packages of responses that prove effective. The challenge is fundamental because replacement of population is required for societal survival and because the costs of childbearing and rearing in contemporary settings are huge. The changes in institutions and redirection of resources toward parents and children that will likely be required pose a huge challenge for societies with very low fertility.
The childbearing determinants and its particularities in East-European countries after the political turnover was the topic discussed in a European Science Foundation exploratory workshop, which took place on 25-27 September 2008 at the Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania. This special number of Romanian Journal of Population Studies is based on papers presented with that occasion.
The main invited countries were: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia and Slovak Republic, since they have adequate data and are former socialist-countries. These countries dispose of recent survey data, mostly (but not exclusively) collected in the frame of Generation and Gender Programme, a trans-national, comparative, highly innovative and interdisciplinary project, initiated by Population Activities Unit of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE PAU).
Nineteen participants from ten European countries were present (Austria, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovak Republic, and Sweden). Not all of participants came exactly from these countries, but surely they have studied population developments of one or even more of them. Four researchers from Max Planck Institute of Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany (institution known for its role in promoting and supporting GGP) were in this situation since they work on Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Russia; the participant from Stockholm University is well known for her studies on Hungary, and one of the Czech researcher came from Austria where he recently located at Vienna Institute for Demographic Research. All the other participants came directly from their origin countries (a former-socialist one), where their contribution to the development of demographic science is nationally recognized and internationally well known.
The workshop was organized in eight working sessions addressing theoretical and methodological issues, and presenting empirical findings regarding various childbearing determinants (see the conference website :
Seven out of seventeen papers presented at the workshop are now published in this special number of Romanian Journal of Population Studies. The first paper, written by Traian Rotariu, includes a critical approach of the present theories of reproductive behaviour, especially of the ideational change as the main determinant of below replacement fertility. The second paper is authored by a group of four researchers, namely Jan M. Hoem, Dora Kostova, Aiva Jiasilioniene and Cornelia Mureşan, and is dealing with trends in union-formation patterns in Romania since 1960. The next three papers are also focused on union formation as a classical main determinant of childbearing behaviour. They include an analysis of the increase of cohabitation, the delay of first birth and the interrelation between these events in Bulgaria (The rise of cohabitation and childbearing outside of marriage in Bulgaria authored by Elena von der Lippe), a discussion on the possibilities of computing alternative measures of fertility besides the conventional tempo distorted total fertility rate, exemplified on the Czech Republic (The link between womens education and non-marital childbearing in the Czech Republic signed by Krytof Zeman), and a study on the specific of non-marital births in Romania (The growth in non-marital fertility and other related behaviours in Romania after 1989 by Cristina Oaneş and Mihaela Hărăguş). The role of educational attainment and educational enrolment as key determinants of the transition to the second birth in the context of changing family and fertility patterns in the Czech Republic, is then discussed by Anna Anna tastná in the next paper. The last paper reports interesting findings based on a qualitative approach, about the role of age norms in postponement of childbearing in Slovakia, and it is signed by Michaela Potančoková.
Demeny, P. (2003). Population Policy Dilemmas in Europe at the Dawn of the Twenty-First Century . Population and Development Review (29) : 1-28.
Frejka, T.; Hoem, J.; Toulemon, L. ; Sobotka, T. (eds.) (2008). Special Collection 7: Childbearing Trends and Policies in Europe. Demographic-Research. Rostock, http://www.demographic-research.org/special/7/.
Lesthaeghe, R. & Willems, P. (1999). Is Low Fertility a Temporary Phenomenon in the European Union? Population and Development Review (25) : 211-228.
McDonald, P. (2000). Gender Equity in Theories of Fertility Transition. Population and Development Review (26) : 427-439.
Van de Kaa, D.J. (2001) Post-modern fertility preferences: from changing value orientation to new behaviour. In: R.A. Bulatao and J.B. Casterline (eds). Global Fertility Transition. Supplement to Population and Development Review (27) : 290-331.
TThis article elaborates on the ideas presented at a scientific reunion held in Cluj-Napoca in September 2008. Its major aim is to dismiss the attempt to attribute the decrease of fertility below the replacement level to cultural factors, particularly to the value system change that governs various behaviour patterns, the reproductive included.
This cultural determinism, most clearly stated in the theory of the so-called second demographic transition, is a most convenient explanatory attempt, which has the great (dis)advantage that, by the very nature of the factors mentioned, cannot be submitted to a decisive test. We will bring logical and factual counter-arguments that we expect to accumulate in time, so that this theory (fashionable at present) will come to occupy its due place among the numerous constructs that account for human fertile behaviour.
Factual arguments have been derived from recent demographic developments in Romania, a country different in several cultural and structural aspects from the hard nucleus of modern and postmodern Western civilisation but which, nevertheless, has experienced sub fertile behaviour.
By European standards, consensual first unions have been rare in Romania, and they remain so even though their incidence has increased by a factor of almost five since the early 1960s. Rates of conversion of consensual unions into marriages have been cut in half over the same four decades or so, and marriage rates have declined by a similar factor since the fall of state socialism, which is more dramatic because this period is so much shorter. There have been strong ethnic differentials in union-entry rates in the country.
Before 1989, transition to adulthood in Romania was occurring at early ages, marriage was universal and fertility was above the replacement level. In 1990, the mean age of first marriage was 22.0, the mean age of the first birth was 22.4, the total fertility rate was 1.8, and the proportion of non-marital birth was 4%. After 1990, many sharp and rapid changes have taken place in the demographic behaviours: postponement of marriages, postponement of first birth, decline of total fertility rate. However, marriage postponement has not translated entirely into postponement of the first birth. The interval between marriage and the first birth has declined, because of the very high and rapid increase of the proportions of non-marital births. This increase is really surprising, for age of marriage and age of first birth are still very low. In 2000, the mean age of first marriage was 23.4, the mean age of first birth was 23.6, the total fertility rate was 1.3, and the proportion of non-marital birth was 25.5%. In order to underline variables associated with changing behaviours, we want to perform different analyses on the several steps of marital and reproductive behaviour (first sexual intercourse, use of contraception, type of union, marital and non-marital birth), using new survey data.
Together with the political and economic changes in the 1990s in all Eastern European countries are observed also drastic demographic changes. The most prominent ones, regarding the fertility in Bulgaria is the rise of postponement of births, the emergence of new family forms and a high rise in the out-of-wedlock births. In our study, we analyse the increase of cohabitation, the delay of first birth and the interrelation between these events. We pay a special attention to the influence of education level of women on the preferences of family formation and childbearing. The data we use comes from the Social Capital Survey conducted in 2002 in Bulgaria. Our results show that when a conception occurs, women tend more to marry directly than form a consensual union. Yet, the increase in the share of non-marital births is due to the spread of cohabitation. We also found out that first birth in Bulgaria is a universal process and is not influenced by the education level of the women. But, higher educated women prefer to marry directly, than start their union formation with cohabitation. Also, enrollment in education delays womans transition to adulthood.
Since the 1990s the fertility and nuptiality behaviour of Czech women has changed substantially. Both the sharp decline in fertility and nuptiality levels and the postponement of family formation until higher ages have been extensively analysed. One of the most noticeable trends was the increase in the proportion of non-marital childbirths. It is however still not clear what proportion of unmarried mothers is cohabiting and how many of them are living alone. Until recently, there has not been conducted any systematic research on family situation of new mothers in the Czech Republic. In an attempt to estimate the extent of cohabitation and lone motherhood, their increase during last two decades, and the relationship to womans education, we use statistic records of births and marriages of the Czech Statistical Office, linked according to the unique ID# of woman, to analyse the behaviour of mothers before and after first childbirth and to estimate the prevalence of mothers family status during childbirth (childbirth in marriage with/without premarital conception, birth in cohabitation premarital or permanent, and lone motherhood) and its change over two periods (1991-96 vs. 2001-06).
The increase of proportion of non-marital births in last two decades was counterbalanced especially by the decrease of premarital conceptions: Contrary to the past, when pregnancy was a strong impetus to marry promptly before birth delivery, pregnant single women now tend to stay single. About half of these mothers then experience neither marriage nor second childbirth until next six years, and they are considered as lone mothers. Other quarter marry after childbirth, while last quarter bear also second child without entering marriage. The main finding of this paper is that wide differences exist between educational categories of women. While primary educated mothers tend to be lone or to cohabit even after second childbirth, higher educated women mostly conceive and even concept their first child traditionally after marriage.
The social, political and economic transformations experienced by the former Communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe since the beginning of the 1990s have resulted in rapid changes in demographic trends the consequences of which, with regard to marriage and fertility, are highly significant. The period since 1990 has witnessed far-reaching changes in the occurrence and timing of family life transitions among young adults in the Czech Republic.
This study investigates the determinants of having a second child in Czech society during two distinctive political periods characterised by differing demographic behaviour. The study is set against the background of a society in which the most characteristic trend in reproductive patterns during the socialist era was a strong orientation towards the two-child family and where the ideal of a two-child family still persists.
Besides other factors, age norms enter the process of decision making on transition to motherhood. Chronological age proved relevant to urban women in Slovakia with respect to the postponement of childbearing. The paper discusses the concept of early, optimal and late childbearing and the relevant age deadlines, and reveals the social meanings attributed to the chronological age in the urban context in Slovakia in the early 21st century. The concept of the biological clock identifies the age after which to stop postponing motherhood. The study is based on in-depth and semi-structured interviews with women who lived in the Slovak capital Bratislava.