East Europe and Former USSR
Population Aging And The Birth Rate
Despite this cultural and economic diversity, only one fact is needed to explain such age contrasts. Low birth rates produce old populations. High birth rates produce young populations. Mortality and migration can affect age structure, but fertility dominates the picture. In this sense, the story of population aging is a simple one.
Figure 1 shows this graphically for eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. The vertical axis measures children that a woman in each country could expect in her lifetime, given birth rates at the end of the century. The horizontal axis shows a ratio of people at age sixty-five or over to people under age fifteen. Bulgaria and Hungary, as described above, appear in the lower right corner of this figure. Turkmenistan and Tajikistan occupy the top left corner. All the other countries of the region array themselves along a line between these extremes, except for one country (Bosnia-Herzegovina) in the bottom left part of the figure that falls below this imaginary line.
Bosnia-Herzegovina had a higher birth rate during the twentieth century than most countries in eastern Europe. As a result, at the end of the century its youthful age structure still resembled Moldova or Armenia. However, Bosnia's birth rate fell drastically in the 1990s in the context of tragic political events. By the end of the century the birth rate looked "too low" for such a young country. Neighboring Albania, by comparison, had an even younger population. However, this even more Islamic country still had a high birth rate at the end of the century, so it conformed to the pattern in Figure 1. The apparent inconsistency of a young Bosnia with a low birth rate was only a transitional phase. With continued low fertility, population aging would bring Bosnia back into the pattern of other countries.