Country Listing

Romania Table of Contents



Romania had a population of more than 23 million in 1987, but the active work force numbered about 10.7 million--an increase of only 550,000 workers since 1975. Women accounted for only about 40 percent of the labor force in 1988 and therefore represented the largest reserve of underused talent. After the mid-1970s, the rate of growth of the industrial labor force dropped significantly compared with the previous quarter century, falling from 5.1 percent in 1976 to 2.3 percent in 1980. Moreover, demographers forecast a growth of only 2.5 to 3.6 percent for the entire Eighth Five-Year Plan (1986-90).

Three major trends precipitated the slowdown in the growth of the labor force. First, the reserve of underused rural labor that could be transferred to the industrial sector was nearing depletion; the countryside had lost nearly half a million men in the four years between 1976 and 1979 alone. Second, Romania's birthrate--after Poland's, the highest in Eastern Europe--declined as urbanization proceeded, and despite the government's pronatalist policy, this trend was not reversed. And finally, large numbers of skilled workers were emigrating.

As in all of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Romania's fertility level dropped significantly as urbanization brought more women into the work force and abortion became available on demand. In 1958 112,000 abortions were performed, but by 1965, the figure had skyrocketed to 1,115,000 annually, or approximately 4 abortions for every live birth. Realizing that a lower birthrate would inhibit economic growth, the government began instituting a pronatalist policy and in 1966 declared an end to abortion on demand. But abortions--legal and illegal--continued to be performed at a worrisome rate, reaching 421,386 in 1983. A relatively ungenerous incentive program to promote childbearing, instituted in the 1960s, had little positive effect. As a result, the birthrate declined steadily after 1967 and by the early 1980s had become a serious concern for Romania's economic planners.

Compared with the other communist regimes of Eastern Europe, Romania appeared to have a rather liberal emigration policy, but in the 1980s applicants for emigration increasingly were subjected to harassment and persecution. Most of the once-thriving Jewish community had been allowed to emigrate to Israel. In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, nearly 1,000 ethnic Germans were permitted to depart each month for the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany). Large numbers of ethnic Hungarians illegally crossed into Hungary to escape economic and cultural oppression. Western diplomats in Belgrade claimed that as many as 5,000 refugees crossed into Yugoslavia each year, and that in 1988 some 400 persons were shot to death and many others drowned trying to swim across the Danube. Those seeking permission to leave legally often lost their jobs, housing, and health benefits and were forced to wait long periods for their exit papers. These harsh policies reflected the seriousness with which the regime regarded the loss of the country's skilled workers and its concern for the overall deterioration of the labor pool.

Data as of July 1989