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The Great Eastern European Baby Bust--and Why We Should Care

Douglas Muir, over at Fistful of Euros, has an absolutely fascinating post on the intersection of demographics and the business cycle in Eastern Europe. I know it sounds a little obscure, but there's an important corollary for our own economy, too.

The bottom line is that the Eastern Europeans were already facing a baby shortage, because an earlier baby bust left them with too few women of child-bearing age. On top of which, women tend to postpone pregnancy in a recession, so even the potential child-bearers out there aren't likely to, you know, bear children. As Muir writes:

Demographically, the recession is coming at the very worst possible time: roughly one generation after birthrates crashed across the region. This suggests that over the next couple of years, countries like Russia and Ukraine are going to see record low birthrates in both absolute and relative terms. This, in turn, suggests that starting next year, long-term demographic projections for those countries are going to start nosing downwards. ...

[S]ome of the demographic projections for Eastern Europe were pretty drastic already. By the 2030s, Romania’s population is supposed to shrink by about 10%, Bulgaria’s by over 15%, Ukraine’s by roughly 20%. The recession is likely to make those numbers even more alarming.

And here's where we come in:

Now, there is one glimmer of hope here [for the Romanias and Bulgarias]. Across most of Eastern Europe, women still tend to start having children sooner than their Western sisters. The average age of birthing mothers in Germany is 29.5; in Sweden, it’s over 30; in Bulgaria, it’s about 25. So there is some slack, demographically speaking. If the recession is short, young women can simply pick up where they would have, only a year or two later. The babies not born in 2010 might just be born in 2012 instead. In this respect, the East is better off than the West; countries where the average birthing mother is already over 30 don’t have this margin.

You do worry about us losing a demographic slice under circumstances like these--all the more so since we don't have that extra cushion. I'd be curious to hear from anyone who has knowledge of how things look in this country, and how it might be affected by the recession.

--Noam Scheiber