Re-Emerging Diversity: Rapid Fertility Changes in Central and Eastern Europe After the Collapse of the Communist Regimes

By Tomás Sobotka


This article provides a detailed analysis of recent fertility changes in 15 countries of central and eastern Europe and in the former East Germany. It focuses on the period after 1989, which witnessed a profound transformation in childbearing patterns, including a rapid decline in fertility rates, the postponement of childbearing, and an upsurge in the proportion of extramarital births. These shifts went hand in hand with changes in union formation, abortion and contraceptive prevalence. While the intensive decline of the total fertility rates seems to indicate a uniform reaction of former Communist societies to the ongoing social and economic changes, the analysis reveals that there was increasing diversity in fertility patterns across the region. The article pays particular attention to the interplay between postponement of childbearing and period fertility levels. The progression of the postponement—indicated by an increase in the mean age of women at first birth—has varied widely between countries. We hypothesize that the more rapid postponement of parenthood was related to the success of the transition period, and to the extent it brought new opportunities and choices for young people and shifted the institutional structure of many societies considerably closer to the structure of western European countries.

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