jacdon at jacdon at
Thu May 4 20:57:19 MDT 2000


I’ve seen far worse statistics than this regarding the plight
of working people from the former European socialist countries
now living under capitalism.  And this article doesn’t
even get into the fact that the life expectancy of male citizens
of the ex-USSR has gone down almost five years in the
last decade.  But still, I find this article particularly
poignent, especially the quote comparing “family downsizing”
to "company downsizing."

Jack A. Smith

New York Times, May 4, 2000


PRAGUE, May 3 -- The collapse of Communism in 1989 produced a sharp
drop in the fertility rate throughout Eastern and Central Europe that
could reduce the region's population nearly 20 percent by the year 2050,
according to a United Nations report issued today.

With political collapse and economic uncertainty, many women almost
immediately stopped having children or decided to delay motherhood,
according to the report by the United Nations Economic Commission for
Europe, part of a larger economic survey of Europe.

And in more developed countries, the transition to capitalism has
new economic opportunities for both women and men, making early
childbearing less common.

A result will be a smaller labor pool and a quickly aging population,
Miroslav Macura, the chief of the population unit that prepared the
With the rise in emigration and at least temporary increases in
mortality rates
in large parts of the region, which includes Russia and the European
parts of
the former Soviet Union, he said, a population of some 307 million could
to about 250 million in the next 50 years.

With the fall of Communism, real incomes have declined in the region and
are only slowly recovering, with larger gaps between rich and poor. At
same time, governments have cut back support for families with children,
while services like day-care centers have become private or more

"People have been impoverished and decided that having kids at a time of
poverty and misery is not the right thing to do, so they cut back," Mr.
said in a telephone interview from Geneva. "This is family downsizing
comparable to company downsizing."

Western Europe is also facing reductions in the fertility rate -- which
the average number of children born to women of childbearing age -- and
aging population, which is raising the prospect of an economy without
young, skilled workers to grow and pay for the rising number of
The answer is likely to be more immigration from Central and Eastern
which may create new political problems in Western Europe and further
diminish the skilled work force to the east.

In Eastern and Central Europe, the decline in childbearing is much
than in the West. When a population has a fertility rate of 2.1 children
woman, it replaces itself, Mr. Macura said. But by 1997, the average
fertility rate
in the transition economies was 1.37, a third lower than in 1988. In the
economies of Western Europe, by contrast, the average rate was 1.58.

The rate fell most sharply after 1989 in the former East Germany, where
in 1993
the rate had dropped to 0.76. By 1998, it had improved to 1.06, rising
to a figure
still smaller than both Latvia and Bulgaria, whose rates had fallen to
1.09 and
1.11 respectively.

The more prosperous countries of Central Europe will make up some of
population decrease from new immigration that will come from even poorer
countries to their east, suggested Tomas Kucera, a professor of
demographics at
Charles University in Prague.

He also said that the large generation born in the early 1970's, which
currently postponing motherhood, is likely not to postpone it forever,
especially as economies stabilize. But they will have fewer children,
often no
more than one.

"Fertility will never again reach pre-1989 levels," Mr. Kucera said.

Given the high levels of unemployment and underemployment in Central
and Eastern Europe, having fewer children is "rational economic behavior
some ways," Mr. Macura said. He suggests that in Russia and many of the
poorer states, a smaller labor force will help. But he concedes that
paying for
the benefits and illnesses of an aging population will be difficult, and
that some
countries, like Russia, will see a sharp decline in its population as a
threat to its influence and power.

Still, despite Russia's high mortality rate, women are still having
babies early
in Russia, as well as in Ukraine and Belarus, Mr. Macura said. The
Nations study projects Russia's population to decline by 18 percent in
the next
50 years, but the drop is relatively small in percentage terms compared
Hungary, 25 percent; Bulgaria and Latvia, both 31 percent; and Estonia,

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