Where have all the children gone? A study of the social determinants of fertility postponement: the case of Hungary since 1988

Vanessa Lehner, Princeton University

What are the main social factors that help us to understand Hungary’s fertility trend as reflected in the total fertility rate (TFR) since 1988? Since its democratic transition in 1989, Hungary’s fertility trend has been characterized by rapid fertility declines. Coupled with a significant rise in mean age at childbearing by birth order, this indicates a trend of fertility postponement. Outlining various fertility measures, this essay uses demographic methods based on the total fertility rate (TFR) to explore the changing fertility rate of Hungary since 1988. Switching to a sociological viewpoint, the essay explores how the problems and changing social context of a post-transitional Hungary can help us to understand this trend. This essay finds that large-scale change in further education enrolment and evidence of a society burdened by anomie (lack of social norms), coupled with a chronic lack of social capital, are likely to be the main social factors responsible for its fertility trend. Hungary’s fertility history is compared with other former socialist countries with “lowest-low” (TFR<1.3) fertility levels, where common themes of social and economic turmoil are observed. Based on these findings and assuming long-term political stability, this essay concludes that Hungary’s ageing population is unlikely to reach replacement level again in the near future, with minority integration playing a key part in Hungary’s demographic and social future.

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Presented in Session 71: Special thematic session on fertility transition: opportunities and threats