Newsletter issues
Combined index

Social Indicators for East European Transition Countries

by Franz Rothenbacher

The East European transition countries have been facing severe problems regarding both economic performance and living conditions in general since the beginning of the transformation process in 1989. This is the reason why this topic has been chosen. It is intended to present some fundamental social indicators for the East European transition countries. The data presented refer to the whole of Eastern and South Eastern Europe, including the Western follow-up states of the former Soviet Union, i.e. the Baltic countries, Russia, Moldavia, Ukraine and Belarus.

The transformation process in Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe, beginning with the breakdown of the state socialist systems in 1989/90, had fundamental consequences for the demographic situation, the economy and the living conditions of the population. It has to be considered that even before the start of the transitional processes the developmental level of the East European countries was very different. Therefore these countries are now facing very different social and economic problems.

One of the striking features of the transition countries is the demographic crisis, resulting from shocks due to the breakdown of the economic structure and the opening of the frontiers. Thus, the population increase is now negative in several countries; this means that they are experiencing a severe loss of population. This is on the one hand caused by high emigration rates, as the negative figures for net migration in several countries show. On the other hand it is the result of very low birth rates caused by economic uncertainty. In nearly all East and South East European countries fertility rates are below replacement levels (TFR of 2.0). But there are also some outliers; thus, in Albania we find the highest fertility level of Europe, and in Macedonia, too, the fertility rate exceeds the replacement level. Massive internal migration from the countryside to the towns is causing severe social problems (especially in Bulgaria); another feature is the high rate of emigration to more advanced countries of the region (e.g. Albanians to Greece). Household structures are still more traditional in several of these countries, with a high share of extended families and a rather low share of persons living alone. In most of the countries there are fewer divorces than in Western Europe, with the exception of the countries of the former Soviet Union. The number of births out-of wedlock continues to be rather low due to the lasting East European pattern of universal marriage. Therefore the marriage rate, in turn, is high.

Due to the splitting up of federal states in the process of nation state building, the state system of Eastern Europe predominantly consists of small and medium-sized countries. However, some centres do exist: e.g. Russia, having around 150 million inhabitants, the Ukraine with about 50 million, Poland with 38 million and Romania with 23 million inhabitants.

Most of the countries of the region are still agriculturally oriented, with the share of the primary sector often exceeding 20% of the labour force. Romania and Moldavia seem to be economically least advanced in this respect. The industrial sector in most countries is underdeveloped, and in those countries where employment in agriculture is low, employment in services is high. The figures regarding unemployment do not seem to be very valid, because unemployment is high, according to several studies. Income inequality is not as pronounced as in Western Europe, probably a relict of the socialist phase. The structure of educational participation also underlines the picture of economical backwardness, given the high share of pupils in the primary education sector which often exceeds 60%. Health conditions are relatively bad as compared to Western Europe, and according to the WHO "Health for All" programme disparities between East and West Europe are growing. For example, infant mortality is often above 10‰, a figure which cannot be found in West European countries. Male and female life expectancy at the age of 65 is clearly lower than in West European countries. Social protection is much more expensive in East European countries than in the West. Several countries spend half of the GDP for social security, whereas it does not exceed one third in the West. The East European countries are all very much "poorer" if one compares GDP figures. All countries apart from Slovenia have a GDP below 5,000 US-$. The economic distance from the West is very obvious.

All in all it can be concluded that the level of living in this region has not yet risen substantially; furthermore, there are no signs of a fast convergence between Eastern and Western Europe in terms of economic performance and therefore in levels of living. Thus, when the iron curtain was pulled down the economic division between East and West became more visible.

Dr. Franz Rothenbacher is a sociologist at the EURODATA Research Archive of the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research (MZES) and managing editor of this newsletter.

Notes and Abbreviations in the Table.

CoE Council of Europe, Strasbourg; other abbreviations and acronyms of international organizations are well-introduced. A 1995; B 1994; C 1993; D 1992; E 1991; F 1990; G 1989; H 1988; I 1987; J 1986; K 1985; L 1984; P Provisional.

EURODATA Newsletter No.4, p.19-21