Gender Asymmetry in Serbia As an Unrecognised Obstacle for Increase of Fertility

Mirjana Bobic, Faculty of Philosophy University of Belgrade

The paper deals with decision-making while transiting from couple to parenthood in Serbia from the point of view of women/mothers. The empirical evidence has been derived from the representative survey of women in Serbia (n=1500) carried out in spring 2017 by the Institute for sociological research of Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade, under the title “Reproductive strategies of women in Serbia today”.

When designing the research we relied on leading theoretical and empirical paradigms. Theory of second demographic transition highlights gender equality as an important societal precondition of fertility in postmodern settings (Leastheaghe, 2010). Contemporary socio-demographic literature underlines satisfaction with partnership to be positively related with stability of unions and (further) childbearing (Paar, 2010, etc). Life satisfaction is linked with sharing of familial tasks and responsibilities and completed gender revolution in both private and public sphere (Aassve, A., G., Fuochi, L. Mencarini, D. Mendola, 2015).

Our empirical evidence shed light on partners'' common planning and preparation for childbearing and upcoming parenting. However this initial partners'' equality and unity is abandoned after baby arrives home. Gender asymmetry comes into place rendering heavy burden on women''s resources. Serbia has very low fertility rate (TFR 1.4) while respondents opted for three children as optimal. We turn attention to prevailing gender asymmetry as a solid basis for family friendly policy, aimed at lowering barriers to increase fertility, especially when it comes to youth who is postponing it. The fact is that policy makers in Serbia do not come to understand the importance of gender equality both at home and in public sphere (employment and career) and its links to fertility decisions. Still any policy in Serbia today will fail unless quality of life of citizens is not prioritised, whereas family planning needs to be founded on diversity and free will.


The paper examines major points of decision-making and preparing while transiting from coupledom to parenthood in Serbia today from the point of view of women/mothers, including also their self-assessment of life satisfaction and meaning of childbearing. Serbia has very low fertility (TFR 1.4), negative natural growth and migration balance thus bringing about stark ageing and depopulation of the whole regions. The empirical evidence derives from the representative survey of women in Serbia (n=1500) carried out in spring 2017 by the Institute for sociological research of Faculty of Philosophy, University of Belgrade. The survey covered all major 5 regions of central Serbia and Vojvodina, further dissaggregated into urban and rural population. It should be pointed out that this is the first representative survey of entire women population of Serbia.

Theory of second demographic transition (SDT) and new insights into understanding of postmodern fertility behavor laid ground for our empirical research. SDT highlights gender equality as an important societal precondition of childbearing in postmodern societies (Leastheaghe, 2010). In contemporary sociodemographic literature satisfaction with life in terms of marital happiness and previous child experiences are deemed to be positively related with both stability of unions and (further) fertility of women (Aassve, A., G., Fuochi, L. Mencarini, D. Mendola, 2015, Paar, 2010, etc). Satisfaction with partner is related to sharing of tasks and responsibilities at home and around child(ren) as well as achieving of work and family balance. Thus gender revolution in private as well as public sphere is of crucial importance for self realization and more offspring.

Having these underpinnings in mind we wanted to examine women''s perception of privacy in Serbia and especially their experiences during transformation of partnership into parenthood. Results show that there persists gender inequality at home ever since the beginning of socioeconomic transition, while some positive changes had been registered by the end of 1980s. Gender revolution is later on stalled if not reversed (so called retraditionalization), (Milic, 2004, 2010) due to structural changes: demise of social protective system from socialism, followed by political turmoil, economic restructuring, high unemployment and overall impoverishment of vast majority of population. Washed up at the shore of global capitalism as a semiperiphery, today Serbia is very low posited in terms of living conditions, investments and social development. In such harsh conditions family is grossly strengthened as a coping mechanism for all citizens be it young, old, male or female. Kin related solidarity is a last resort against risky society with restricted mechanisms of overcoming shortages in everyday living (housing, employment, education, health, social protection, individualisation, etc). Gender roles are complementary with women keeping up care-giving and males being main providers with ever stronger pressure on families for care for aged parents and relatives. Value orientations of our respondents are basically patriarchal (low to medium scale, 76.3%), with some differentiation in statements and everyday practice related to age and education. What is especially surprising is that younger (18-29) and older respondents (40-60) as well as those better off demonstrated higher level of patriarchy and gender asymmetry compared to those in between (30-39). This is already registered in the author''s and other domestic researches and is considered to be relying on mutual partners'' support due to poverty ("by mere virtue of survival") unlike advanced economies where gender revolution had taken part both as ideology and practice.

Our empirical evidence sheds light on some sort of mutuality of partners when reflecting of childbearing, planning and preparation to take up parenting. However this initial equality and unity is significantly retrieved from after baby arrives and therefore gender asymmetry comes into place rendering heavy burden on female resources under the circumstances of strong public patriarchy.

We reckon that our policy makers, media, public discourse though permanently lamenting of persistently low fertility in Serbia and demise of its population are scarcely aware of the importance of these high psychological costs of parenthood. Therefore we turn attention to these findings as solid basis for family friendly policy, aimed at lowering such barriers to increase fertility, especially when it comes to youth who are massively postponing parenting refraining from sacrificing model. There lacks understanding that parenthood ought to be gender symmetrical and flexible arrangement of partners/parents, with fathers taking much more active role therein. Women, men, children should all be supported by much more generous and widespread support, compared to one running today and thus should be aimed at more recipients, families, parents and children. Last but not least any policy in Serbia will inevitably fail unless quality of life of citizens is not prioritised whereas family planning needs to be founded on recognition of diversity and free will, for both men and women and youth especially, for present as well as future generations of parents and their children.

Key words: Partnership, Childbearing, Gender Equality, Life Satisfaction, Serbia, Retraditionalization

Presented in Session 1139: Posters