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Danish Center for Welfare Studies

The Political Demography of Missed Opportunity: Populations and Policies in a Younger but Faster-Ageing East Central Europe, 1990–2040

Authors: Pieter Vanhuysse, Jolanta Perek-Białas
Published: Palgrave Macmillan, 2021.

The new democracies in East Central Europe started the postcommunist era with comparatively young populations. After 1989–1990, they have largely spurned a quarter-century-long demographic window of opportunity for reform, by insufficiently adapting their policy models to prepare for predicted fast population ageing ahead. Especially in Romania, Bulgaria and the Visegrad Four, this is reflected in low active ageing and child well-being index rankings, relatively small social investment in early human capital, weak improvements in prospective old-age dependency ratios and large-scale emigration. Slovenia and the Visegrad Four, but not the Baltics, also became “pensioners ‘ welfare states”, with prematurely strong pro-elderly policy bias. In some cases, massive early exit worsened pension system unsustainability while boosting pensioners’ electoral power (political push before demographic pull). However, around the time when the demographic window closed (2010–2015), the political salience of family policies, work-family reconciliation policies and active ageing policy increased, often spurred by the same Christian-conservative and/or nationalist-populist parties that caused significant democratic backsliding. But by then, the relative political power of elderly voters during elections in East Central Europe was among the highest in the world.

Find the chapter here (open access)

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