Visegrad Team
9 March 2021

IEŚ Commentaries 348 (45/2021)

Romania: 30 years of demographic decline

Romania: 30 years of demographic decline

ISSN: 2657-6996
IEŚ Commentaries 348
Publisher: Instytut Europy Środkowej

Romania is struggling with a demographic decline that has been going on for many years. Eurostat research shows that Romanians are among the youngest in Europe when they have their first child. However, this does not affect significantly the number of babies born each year. The reason for the difficult demographic situation in Romania is mass emigration, mainly to Western countries. Romanian authorities are seeking solutions that will positively affect the dramatic demographic situation in the country.

Eurostat survey. According to Eurostat data published on February 24, 2021, the average age of women in the European Union at the birth of their first child is gradually increasing. In 2019, it was 29,4 years. For comparison, in 2017, it was 29,1 years. In 2019, the age at which women give birth to the first child increased in all European Union Member States, although to a different extent. The biggest change occurred in Estonia, where the average age increased by 1 year, from 27,2 in 2015 to 28,2 in 2019, followed by Lithuania and Luxembourg (both +0, 9 years). In the same period, the smallest changes were recorded in Slovakia (+0,1 years) and Slovenia (+0,2). The highest average age of a woman at the time of first childbirth in 2019 was recorded in Italy (31,3 years), Spain, and Luxembourg (both 31,1 years), and the lowest was in Bulgaria (26,3 years) and Romania (26.9 years)1.

The average age of women at first childbirth in Central Europe varies. Nonetheless, compared to other European Union countries, women in this region decide to have their first child relatively early. This phenomenon can be observed especially in Poland (27,6 years) and Slovakia (27,2 years). Women give birth to their first child as a similar age as in Hungary (28,3 years), the Czech Republic (28,5 years), and the Balkans, e.g. in Croatia (28,9 years). It is worth adding that among Western European countries, women give birth to their first child at similar ages in France (28,8 years), which, however, is the result of different demographic factors than in Central Europe and the Balkans. The conclusions presented by Eurostat for 2019 are largely in line with the outcomes of the study by Eurostat for 2017. Then, Bulgarians and Romanians had their first child at younger ages compared to the rest of Europe2.

Low fertility rate in Romania. Although Romanian women are youngest in Europe when having their first child, and therefore theoretically have more time to procreate, the Romanian population is gradually declining. In 2020, the number of children born fell to its lowest level in a hundred years. The earlier infamous record was broken in 2019 and 2018. The fertility rate was then 1,763. It is currently around 1,56. Between the years 1995-2004, the fertility rate was around 1,3, and achieved the lowest value in 2001 and 2002 – 1,27. After Romania joined the European Union, the fertility rate began to slowly increase, but it also experienced declines. At the same time Romania was facing other problems.

Emigration. There are several reasons for Romania’s difficult demographic situation. The first is the mass emigration of young Romanians in order to earn money and improve their quality of life. In 2018, the year preceding the Eurostat survey, more than 22,000 people emigrated from Romania. A significant percentage of this number are people of reproductive age. According to a World Bank report published in 2018, Romanian working-age emigrants exceed 2,65 million people, which is about 20,6% of the Romanian working population4. Emigration from Romania is both permanent (mainly to Germany and Great Britain) and temporary, e.g. for a period of several months (especially to Germany, Italy, Spain, and France). Both highly educated employees, including ICT specialists, engineers, and medical professionals, and manual laborers emigrate from Romania. At the same time, the number of immigrants into Romania is relatively small, neither counterbalancing the outflow of workers, nor having a significant impact on population growth, as is the case in, for example, France.

Lifestyle changes. Changes in the lifestyles of Romanians have also contributed to the low fertility rate over the last dozen or so years. Mass labour migrations and a relative improvement in the economic situation contributed to an increase in expectations, especially among young people, in terms of living standards, access to nurseries and kindergartens, as well as expectations towards, for example, health care5. The fact that an adequate standard of living or a high standard of pre-school and medical care has a positive impact on the fertility rate of Romanians is evidenced by the results of a study published in 2014 by the Office for National Statistics, a British government administration body responsible for collecting and sharing statistical information. The fertility rate among Romanians living in Great Britain was 2,93. At the same time, it was 1,56 in Romania.

Decree No. 770. Historical experience also influences the demographic situation in Romania to a similar extent. On October 1, 1966, Nicolae Ceaușescu, by Decree No. 770, introduced a new law on access to abortion and contraception. Its declared goal was to “fight Western imperialism” – in fact, it was more about “reproducing the labour force.” A pregnancy could be legally terminated only in a few cases, including, for example, when a pregnant woman gave birth to four children (a change in the decree was introduced in 1984 – since then, an abortion was available to a mother of five children). Illegal abortion was punished with imprisonment. Medical assistance to women who had complications after an unsuccessful operation was provided only when the name of the person carrying out the abortion was revealed. In 1989, female mortality in Romania was the highest in Europe6. The outlawing of abortion and the lack of access to contraceptives also led to massive abandonment of children, especially sick ones. After Ceaușescu’s overthrow, the abortion law was immediately changed, and the consequences of Decree No. 770 in Romania are currently both a taboo subject and a collective trauma to the Romanian people, and it still influences the decision to have children.

Solutions proposed by the Romanian government. Low fertility rates, high emigration, low immigration, and a relatively short life expectancy (in Romania the average life expectancy is approx. 75 years, in France it is approx. 83 years, and in Poland it is 77,85 years) herald an impending demographic catastrophe. These problems were noticed by the Romanian authorities after a long delay. In early 2021, representatives of the ruling coalition from the National Liberal Party (PNL) and the Save Romania and the PLUS Party (USR-PLUS) consulted with Romanian President Klaus Iohannis on the worsening demographic situation in the country. In order to stimulate the fertility rate, Romanian authorities intend to support young families by expanding the infrastructure related to childcare, such as nurseries, kindergartens, and schools. However, it can already be said that these plans will certainly not be enough to mitigate the effects of the demographic decline facing Romania. Another intention of the Romanian government, pointing to a lack of ideas for solving the difficult demographic situation, is the voluntary extension of the retirement age from 65 to 70 years.

Conclusions. 2020 was the 30th year of a demographic decline in Romania. The COVID-19 pandemic has so far had relatively little impact on the worsening of the demographic situation. However, the forecast global economic crisis may adversely affect the decision to have children.

The Romanian authorities have not yet found an effective solution to counteract the consequences of the demographic decline. The situation is certainly not helped by the fact that pro-natalist politics is an extremely socially sensitive topic in Romania. The challenge facing the authorities is so difficult that the population of Romania by 2050 could decrease by as much as 4,49 million, or roughly 23%, according to a forecast announced in 2018 by the Population Reference Bureau. In turn, according to an analysis published in “The Lancet” journal, by 2100, the population of Romania may decrease by up to 60%7.

1 Women in the EU are having their first child later, Eurostat, 24.02.2021, [date of access: 03.03.2021].

2 Births and fertility, Eurostat, Newsrelease, 44/2019 – 12 March 2019, [date of access: 03.03.2021].

3 Fertility rate, total (births per woman) – Romania, The World Bank, [date of access: 03.03.2021]. According to other sources, the fertility rate was 1.53.

4 Romania Systematic Country Diagnostic Background note: Migration, June 2018, The World Bank, p. 4.

5 In this context, it is worth adding that according to the Euro Health Consumer Index (2019), the Romanian health service ranks last in the European Union.

6 See more M. Rejmer, Bukareszt. Kurz i krew, Wołowiec 2013, p. 81-98.

7 S. E. Vollset, E. Goren, C.-W. Yuan et al., Fertility, mortality, migration, and population scenarios for 195 countries and territories from 2017 to 2100: a forecasting analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study, „Lancet” 2020, [data dostępu: 03.03.2021]; M. Gołębiowska, Prognoza 2100. Europa Środkowa i Wschodnia najszybciej wyludniającym się regionem świata, „Komentarze IEŚ” 2020, nr 243.