Historical Social Research

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Tomáš Sobotka, Fertility in Central and Eastern Europe after 1989: Collapse and Gradual Recovery [Abstract]

This contribution looks at the recent transformations of reproductive and family behaviour in Central and Eastern Europe and their interpretations. First I look at the development of family trends from a long-term perspective, focusing especially on the period of state socialism between the late 1940s and the late 1980s. A subsequent analysis of fertility shifts after 1989 shows that despite similar trends, such as plummeting fertility rates and a postponement of childbearing in the 1990s, considerable diversity in family and fertility patterns has emerged during the 1990s and 2000s. This diversity is manifested by strong contrasts between countries in the spread of cohabitation, non-marital fertility, timing of births and marriages, share of one-child families, as well as abortion rates. Similarly, reproductive behaviour more differentiated by social status. Among the few aspects widely shared across countries is a persistent high valuation of parenthood and family life. To discuss these trends, I outline the contours of societal trends after 1989 and highlight selected theories and explanations of rapid fertility changes. Without being mutually exclusive, four perspectives are particularly useful: the economic crisis/ uncertainty view, the ‘second demographic transition’, the ‘postponement transition’ and the ‘contraceptive revolution’. The ‘postponement transition, manifested by a shift of childbearing to higher reproductive ages, arguably constitutes the most important factors behind fertility declines in the 1990s, as period fertility was strongly negatively affected by such shifts in fertility timing (this influence is often labelled as a ‘tempo effect’). Similarly, a gradual fertility increase observed in most countries of the region after 2000, was in part stimulated by a declining ‘tempo effect.’ Public discourses, however, often ignore such influences and tend to concentrate on the period fertility declines and population declines that took place in most of the region.