Romania's Carpathian-dominated relief, geographic position at the crossroads of major continental migration routes, and the turbulent history associated with that position adversely affected population development. The region had 8.9 million inhabitants in 1869, 11.1 million in 1900, 14.3 million in 1930, 15.8 million in 1948, and 23.2 million in 1989.
Annual birthrates remained as high as 40 per 1,000 well into the 1920s, whereas mortality rates, although declining, were still well above 20 per 1,000. Children under five accounted for half of all deaths. During the interwar years, death rates remained high, primarily because of infant mortality rates of 18-20 percent. In fact, throughout the 1930s, Romania had the highest birth, death, and infant mortality rates in Europe. The annual natural population increase fell from 14.8 per 1,000 in 1930 to 10.1 per 1,000 in 1939. These figures conceal considerable regional variation. Birthrates in the Old Kingdom regions of Walachia and Moldavia were much higher than in the former Hungarian territories, which had already begun to decline in the nineteenth century.
Demographic development in the immediate postwar period continued to show a drop in the annual growth rates. Population losses occurred through excessive mortality, reduced natality, and migration, not only because of World War II but also because of subsequent Soviet occupation. Extensive pillage by the Red Army and exorbitant demands for restitution by the Soviets squeezed the peasants, resulting in harvest failures in 1945 and 1946 and severe famine in 1947. In that year, 349,300 deaths were reported, compared with 248,200 the following year. A birthrate of 23.4 per 1,000 and a death rate of 22 per 1,000 resulted in a very low natural increase of 1.4 per 1,000, the lowest ever recorded in Romania's tumultuous history. In the 1950s, recovery from the war brought the birthrate up to 25.6 per 1,000 and the death rate down sharply to 9.9 per 1,000. In 1955 the annual natural rate of increase was 15.9 per 1,000. Again, there were significant regional variations, with Moldavia, Dobruja, and parts of Transylvania showing a higher increase, whereas the Crisana and Banat regions showed very little growth and in some cases even declined.
From a peak of 15.9 per 1,000 in 1955, the rate of natural increase declined rapidly to 6.1 per 1,000 in 1966. Several factors combined to produce this slump, not least of all a law introduced in 1957 that provided abortion on demand. Access to free abortion, coupled with the scarcity of contraceptives and the fact that society did not generally condemn it, made abortion the primary means of fertility control. After the 1957 law was enacted, abortions soon outnumbered live births by a wide margin, with the ratio of abortions to live births reaching four to one by 1965. It was not unusual for a woman to terminate as many as twenty or more pregnancies by abortion.
It was not the easy access to abortion, however, but the reasons behind the decision not to bear children that contributed most to falling birthrates. During this period, a virtual transformation of society was under way. Education levels rose dramatically, and urbanization and industrialization proceeded at a breakneck pace. As they had in other countries, these developments brought lower fertility rates. Women were staying in school longer and putting off having children. Urban areas, where the decline in birthrates was most pronounced, provided cramped and overcrowded housing conditions that were not conducive to the large families of the past. Moreover, communist ideology emphasized the equal participation of women in socialist production as the only road to full equality. Industrialization brought more and more women into the work force, not only for ideological reasons, but also to ease rising labor shortages. Fewer and fewer women made the decision to take on the double burden of a full work week and raising children.
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