Fertility – an overview | ScienceDirect Topics

1 Total Fertility

Fertility levels in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union span most of the range of variation observed around the world (see Fig. 1). As recently as the mid-1970s, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan registered total fertility rates (TFRs) from six to seven, well within the range of high-fertility Third World countries. At earlier dates (in the 1950s) this was also true of Albania and Azerbaijan. However, the vast majority of the countries in question qualify as low-fertility countries, having experienced TFRs on the order of two to three for most of the period since World War II. In general, all of the countries in question have experienced fertility decline during the postwar period. This includes the period after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the breakup of the former Soviet Union.

Figure 1. Total fertility rates in selected countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union

It is possible to group the countries under consideration according to their phase of the Demographic Transition from high, natural fertility to low, controlled fertility (Anichkin and Vishnevskiy 1994, Vishnevskiy and Volkov 1983). For the purposes of the present discussion, low fertility is taken to refer to fertility at or below the replacement level, which is the level of fertility that would be consistent with a stationary population in the long run; a TFR of 2.1 is considered conventionally to be equivalent to the replacement level. The vast majority of East European countries, together with the European republics of the former USSR, were in the intermediate stages of the transition prior to World War II, and completed the transition during the postwar period. However, certain of these countries, such as Estonia, had actually achieved below-replacement fertility prior to World War II. Azerbaijan has completed the transition from high to replacement-level fertility since 1959. The trend in Albania's fertility level resembles closely that of Azerbaijan, although Albania's fertility has not fallen quite to the replacement level. At the opposite extreme, in the indigenous population of former Soviet Central Asia, fertility decline did not take hold until the mid-1970s. These populations remain in the early phases of the demographic transition, exhibiting sustained fertility decline.

There is little evidence of any fundamental difference between the fertility levels and trends of the countries which comprised the former Soviet Union, and other East European countries (see Fertility Trends in the Formerly Socialist Countries of Europe). Fertility levels in the European former Soviet republics have fallen below replacement. Russia and Latvia, whose respective TFRs were 1.28 and 1.09 as of 1998, figure among the lowest-fertility countries in Europe. The only major difference between these regions (former USSR and East Europe) at the time of writing is that the former Soviet Central Asian populations, in which fertility decline is a comparatively recent phenomenon, have not yet attained the low fertility levels which typify the European populations. The fertility levels of most of the former Soviet republics discussed here are adjusted for underregistration of births according to the procedures of the International Programs Center of the US Bureau of the Census.

Both the low-fertility formerly Socialist countries of Eastern Europe and the republics of the former USSR, whose governments were pronatalist in orientation, experimented with policy measures to stimulate childbearing (David and McIntyre 1981, David and Skilogianis 1999). The East European countries were the first to introduce these measures, and did so in the late 1960s and the 1970s. In most cases (e.g., Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland), these measures involved financial incentives such as extended maternity leave, cash awards, and housing subsidies. Typically, the introduction of such measures was followed by a modest rise in fertility of relatively brief duration, and a longer-term slackening or cessation of fertility decline. These pronatalist policies were generally unsuccessful in bringing about increases in fertility to levels substantially above replacement. Only Romania achieved a major rise in TFR, which rose spectacularly from below replacement to over 3.5, then stabilized in the neighborhood of 2.5 for more than ten years. The Romanian achievement owed much to the absence of modern methods of family planning coupled with a draconian ban on abortions, enforced to the extent of subjecting women to regular gynecological examinations to ensure that they were not employing any modern means of fertility limitation. Once these restrictions were lifted, Romania's fertility declined to a level close to that of Russia, one of Europe's lowest.

The Soviet Union introduced a major set of pronatalist incentives in 1981. Shortly afterwards, fertility began to rise in the European republics of the USSR, together with Armenia and Georgia. Intriguingly, the fertility levels of these countries converged to approximately the replacement level in the mid-1980s. In Azerbaijan, fertility decline was halted temporarily in the mid-1980s. Concurrently, levels of fertility rose somewhat in Tajikistan, and to a lesser extent in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. Although various legislative articles were implemented to enhance the effect of the pronatalist measures throughout the 1980s, they succumbed ultimately to inflation and to the collapse of the Soviet economy. By 1990, the TFRs of the European Soviet republics had returned to approximately their 1980 levels, while fertility decline had resumed in Soviet Central Asia. After the breakup of the USSR, fertility levels continued to decline in all former Soviet republics (Vishnevskiy 1999).

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