Fertility in Romania: The Delay of the Second Gender Revolution.

AuthorVoicu, Malina
  1. Introduction

    During the Cold War, the two parts of Europe evolved in different directions, fertility following different paths in East and West, due to the differences in economic and political contexts, as well as, to distinctive values, beliefs, and norms (Frejka and Sobotka, 2008). The existing literature documents the 'baby boom' in the decade after the World War II, followed by the drop in fertility, in Western Europe, while in countries under Soviet influence from Central and Eastern Europe, Total Fertility Rate (TFR) remained closer to generational replacement by the collapse of the communist regime. Among the factors that sustained a TFR closer to the generational replacement, Frejka and Sobotka (2008) mentions: full employment policies providing economic stability for families and no uncertainty regarding job and income, free and broadly available public childcare, access to housing for families and for those having children, limited access to hormonal contraception and promotion of abortion as the main way to deal with unexpected pregnancy, lack of leisure activities and of travel opportunities, shorter time spent in education.

    The collapse of communism in Central and Eastern Europe led to a dramatic change in fertility across the region and to the instauration of the lowest low fertility pattern for more than a decade (Jemna and David, 2018). After the year 2000, economic growth and reduction in unemployment led to a slight recovery of fertility, economic growth going hand in hand with the end of lowest low fertility in many countries (Goldstein, Sobotka and Jasilioniene, 2009), the adjustment of fertility after 1990 depending highly on the birth cohort (Frejka, 2012).

    Among the countries in CEE, Romania is an interesting case, as the pro-natalist policies encouraging people to conceive early in their lives had been coupled with anti-abortion legislation and strong control of the state over the individual private life since 1967 (Kligman, 1998). Despite the efforts done by the communist government to stop the demographic decline, fertility rate variated around the level of generational replacement with some peaks when new episodes of state repression occurred (Rotariu, Dumanescu and Haragus, 2017). The post-communist transition brought a big drop in fertility, the lowest low fertility level being reached in 1996 and staying there for more than a decade. Fertility recovered after 2014, as in the case of other countries in CEE.

    This paper looks at the trends in fertility in Romania over the past decade (2009-2020), analyzing the dynamic of TFR as compared to other countries in the European Union, and goes deeper into understanding the mechanisms leading to the recovery of fertility, as well as to the drivers of the change in fertility. It does so, by using micro-level data coming from the semi-panel collected as part of World Values Survey Romania in 2012 and 2018. The survey provides information regarding the number of children birth by women up to the moment of the interview, allowing to study the factors leading to the growth of the number of children between the two data collections. The dataset offers information about age, education, income, gender roles, and gender ideologies shared by respondents in both waves. Random Effects Regression Models were used to analyze the factors associated with the growth in the number of children. The data are particularly relevant for understanding the drivers of fertility as the panel data collection overlaps with the period when fertility started to grow in Romania.

    This paper consists of five parts, the first one being dedicated to the literature review. The second part introduces the data and the methods employed when conducting the research, while the third one presents the results. The fourth section looks at the results from the perspective of public policies employed by Romania in the past three decades. The final section is dedicated to drawing several conclusions based on the empirical data analysis and suggests further developments for research in the field of fertility.

  2. Literature review

    Several explanations have been employed for the lowest low TFR in CEE countries: economic uncertainty, institutional change, and cultural/ideational factors being responsible at individual and aggregate levels (Billari, 2005). Ideational explanations stress the nexus between fertility and value orientations, fertility decisions being grounded in individual beliefs and values. Economic explanations rely on rational choice as the core mechanism employed when making fertility decisions (Billingsley, 2010). The institutional approach considers changes that occurred in the institutional settings leading to transformation in fertility patterns, such as changes in the welfare state (Billari, 2005), the transition from planned to market economy in CEE countries (Frejka, 2012), or consolidation of democratic institutions during the post-communist transition (Frejka, 2012).

    2.1. Cultural/ideational explanations

    The Second Demographic Transition (SDT) relates the drop in fertility with basic needs fulfillment and self-actualization, the change of TFR being the outcome of the cultural change from traditional and modern value orientations to post-modern/ post-materialist value orientation, self-actualization being at the core of this value change (van de Kaa, 1987; Lesthaeghe and Surkyn, 1988). Self-actualization is the outcome of three different revolutions: the contraceptive revolution (allowing childbirth postponement), the sexual revolution (separating sex and marriage), and the gender revolution (residing in changing gender roles and bringing women in the labor market) (van de Kaa, 1987).

    The gender revolution is one of the core elements of changes in fertility and it unfolded in two parts (Goldstein et al., 2009; Frejka, Goldschneider and Lappegard, 2018). In the first part of the gender revolution, women entered the labor force but did not receive support in dealing with domestic work and they entered the 'second shift' once they arrived home (Goldstein et al., 2009). The outcome was a significant change in family life and fertility patterns, with couples resizing their fertility intentions so that the wife can cope with employment and housework. The second part of the gender revolution brought men closer to the private area and to unpaid domestic work, having the potential to lead to the growth of marriages and fertility and to the reduction of divorce and separation (Frejka, Goldschneider and Lappegard, 2018).

    Empirical evidence confirms that the dominant causal arrow is from (plans for) employment to (plans for) childbearing (Frejk, Goldschneider and Lappegard, 2018). The authors found a connection between the two stages of the gender revolution, with countries with high load of second shift experiencing a steep decline in fertility, while the second gender revolution led to the growth of fertility in Norway.

    A second approach focused on cultural change is Developmental Idealism and stands only for post-communist societies. The theory proposed by Thornton and Philipov (2002), places the change of social norms at the core of the drop of TFR in CEE, as the public of post-communist societies adopts norms and behaviors from the Western world and low fertility is considered as an attribute of advanced industrial societies. The mechanism bringing demographic change deals with the diffusion of social norms and behaviors, after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, in countries having previously limited contact with highly industrialized countries and their culture.

    2.2. Economic explanations

    The economic approach has rational choice at its core, as the main explanatory mechanism. Its' traditional version, proposed by Becker (1993), relates fertility decisions with direct and indirect costs of having children, people assessing the impact of conceiving against the direct expenses of having children (costs of food, shelter, clothing, medicines, education) and indirect expenses, the opportunity costs related with the impact on parents' carrier. Thus, when economic conditions worsen, families cannot afford to have additional costs and decide against having children at all or postpone the decision.

    Postponement Transition is a theoretical approach steaming from rational choice theory, that puts uncertainty at the core of the decision-making process. According to Billari and Kohler et al. (2002), economic uncertainty leads to the postponement of childbearing as the outcome of a rational decision, because couples are uncertain with respect to their prospects. The effect of postponement may be traced to changes in the tempo and quantum of childbirth, leading to a low level of fertility in times of economic scarcity or when society experienced significant social change and people avoid making irreversible decisions (Billingsley, 2010).

    Another explanation emphasizing the contribution of the economy to changes in TFR stems from the relative deprivation/ affluence theory proposed by Easterlin (1976). Thus, people decide to have children by assessing their aspirations against their resources, not necessarily based on the ratio between needs and resources. This approach may be particularly relevant in the context of post-communist societies that experienced, after the collapse of the communist rule, a high level of relative...

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