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Jürgen Dorbritz and Dimiter Philipov (2002)

Changes in Family Formation and Divorce Patterns in the Reforming States of Central and Eastern Europe – The Consequences of the Change-Over in Economic and Social Order*

In: Zeitschrift für Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Vol. 27, 4/2002, p. 427-463, Opladen: Verlag Leske + Budrich, ISSN: 0340-2398

The transition process in the former Socialist countries of Central and Eastern Europe involves passing from a type of economic activity that is centrally-organised, politically-dominated, founded on state property, and which takes place in a closed society, into a democratic, open society based on a market economy. For the individual, this transition constitutes a complete change-over of all social institutions. It is examined how people in the former Socialist countries have reacted to social change with changes in family formation patterns.

The economic trends of the nineties show for all transition countries that they entered a profound crisis of structural caesura in the initial phase of the transition into a market economy order. This has plunged large sections of the populations in these countries into a difficult economic situation by virtue of unemployment, inflation, impoverishment, devaluation of education and qualifications or changes in social structure, to which they have reacted with a rapid fall in the birth rate. This process has turned Central and Eastern Europe into a lowest-low fertility region.

Two groups of factors influence the process of social transition: Political, economic and social change, firstly, removes all the factors which supported the family formation patterns of the former Socialist countries, which had a relatively high fertility rate, low childlessness, and where almost all individuals within a generation married and where the family formation phase started early. In the closed societies, this includes individual autonomy or tolerance of individualistic behavioural patterns being virtually unthinkable, so that an ideational change as had taken place in Western Europe did not occur, leading to the preservation of traditional family formation patterns. This was supported by a pronatalistic family and demographic policy, a policy targeting equality of the genders which above all was to be achieved by more trouble-free reconciliation of family and work for women, and the fact that long-term biographical decisions such as having children were accompanied by a high degree of social security (guarantee of having work, low cost of having children, price and income stability).

Parallel to the falling away of these conditions, there is a dissolution of the traditional values. Social anomie arises. The loss of traditional values entails on the one hand greater individualism, on the basis of which marrying and having children are re-evaluated. Here, one should take account of the fact that, once the closed Socialist societies fall away, options start to expand, so that the decision to form a family is no longer an automatic biographical phase. On the other hand, the dissolution of traditional values means that economic rationality becomes a more common basis for taking decisions. Having children is considered in the context of the costs caused by children, the threat to the standard of living, career progress or social security.

The authors only agree to a limited degree with the theory that certain countries caught up with "Europe's Second Demographic Transition" in the nineties. It does not appear explicable that such a change in norms and values immediately took place when the Socialist societies came to an end which instantaneously seized large sections of the population and set off a fall in the birth rate. The dissolution of the Socialist societies set the stage for trends to develop towards individualisation and pluralisation which in the longer term can establish family formation patterns.

* Original title: Der Wandel in den Mustern der Familienbildung und der Ehescheidungen in den Reformstaaten Mittel- und Osteuropas – Die Folgen des Austausches der Wirtschafts- und Sozialordnung (full text in German only)

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