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Social change and behavior: fertility decline in post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia


Perelli-Harris, Brienna G. (2006). Social change and behavior: fertility decline in post-Soviet Ukraine and Russia. Master's thesis / Doctoral dissertation.


This dissertation investigates the decline to very low fertility in societies undergoing rapid social change. In particular, it focuses on post-Socialist Russia and Ukraine, which have two of the lowest fertility rates in the world. Using a combination of official statistics, Russian and Ukrainian longitudinal monitoring surveys, and focus group data, the study analyzes the changing process of reproductive decision-making. Results indicate that societal-level change not only alters the composition of individual-level characteristics in a population, such as distribution of educational attainment, but also affects the relationship between factors and behavior. Specifically, the study focuses on the changing effects of education and parental leave on childbearing before and after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The findings indicate that the relationship between education and first birth timing reversed after Ukraine gained Independence, for reasons that include the restructuring of the educational system, shifting opportunity costs, reduction in childcare benefits, and exposure to new ideas and values. The effect of extended parental leave on second birth timing became positive and more pronounced over time, due to weakening Soviet work requirements, difficulties in combining work and childbearing, and the emergence of family-oriented behaviors that correspond to conservative gender roles. These findings suggest that no single explanation can account for the rapid fertility decline in the former Soviet Union. Although highly educated women may now be postponing childbearing as predicted by theories of ideational change, other women are adopting behaviors reflecting underlying gender stereotypes. This study also contributes to the literature by adding a psychological dimension to the study of fertility decision-making, a behavior which is often assumed to be rational. It provides evidence that subjective well-being and informal work lead to additional childbearing in Russia. Subjective well-being is a psychological resource that helps people maintain a positive attitude, while participation in informal work indicates an ability to act regardless of labor market insecurity. Although these two factors are not directly related, they can be seen as indicators of the willingness to take on additional responsibilities, including childbearing and rearing, important actions in an anomic society facing rapid population decline.

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Perelli-Harris, Brienna G.