A governance perspective on East Central Europe's population predicament: Young exit, grey voice, and lopsided loyalty

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Much of East Central Europe today faces the double challenge of populations that are aging fast and shrinking steadily. Elderly-oriented political dynamics and myopic governance are part of this predicament, and also a reason why future prospects are not rosy. Having started postcommunist transition with demographically younger populations, successive governments in this region have comprehensively squandered a decades-long window of policy opportunity to adapt to predicted population aging ahead (Vanhuysse and Perek-Bialas, 2021). Especially in Hungary, Poland, Czechia, the Slovak Republic, Romania, and Bulgaria, this is reflected in low active ageing and child well-being index rankings, low levels of social investment and mediocre educational outcomes, and family policies reinforcing traditional motherhood roles or barely supporting parents at all. Poland, Romania, Croatia, Hungary and, especially, the Baltic states also experienced large-scale emigration (‘young exit’). Slovenia and the Visegrad Four, but not the Baltics, became premature pensioners‘ democracies characterized by unusually high levels of pro-elderly policy bias (‘lopsided loyalty’). Around the time the demographic window closed, the salience of family policies increased, albeit driven by pro-natalist, neo-familialist and gender-regressive political ideologies, rather than by a concerted effort to boost human capabilities or reward social reproduction. But by then, elderly voter power (‘grey voice’) in East Central Europe was among the highest in the world. Politics strongly constrains the likelihood of appropriate human capital-boosting policy responses to the region’s population predicament. Alarm bells thus ring for a generational contract under pressure and for longer-term societal resilience.
Original languageEnglish
JournalVienna Yearbook of Population Research
Publication statusPublished - 19. Apr 2023


  • pro-elderly policy bias
  • social reproduction
  • pensioner democracies
  • social investment
  • generational contract
  • welfare states


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