Depopulating semi-periphery? Longer term dynamics of migration and socioeconomic development in Romania

István Horváth, Tamás Kiss


Romania is among Eastern European societies facing a massive depopulation in the last two and a half decades. Large-scale emigration has occurred under the circumstances of massive fertility decline and population ageing following 1989. Immigration has been insignificant until now, in spite of the negative natural growth and the presence of large Romanian-speaking populations next to the Eastern borders of the country. Our paper investigates long-term migratory trends and their relation to general macro-economic and macro-social processes. We place the Romanian historical experience concerning developmental aspects of changes in migratory flows and stocks. Existing macro-historical narratives diverge first in their expectations concerning socioeconomic development. On the one hand, models of “migration transition” and “migration cycles” share an optimistic view of developmental prospects of peripheral and semi-peripheral societies. For instance, Skeldon considered the Eastern European region as an “emerging or potential core”. As a consequence, he expected that these societies would become new destinations of global migratory flows. On the other hand, researchers relying on world-system theory emphasize that global structural inequalities are likely to persist, thus Eastern European societies are likely to remain enclosed in their semi-peripheral condition. Under such circumstances massive emigration could continue and could lead to large-scale depopulation of certain regions. Our paper argues that the long-term evolution of macro-structural indicators and migratory flows in Romania do not substantiate developmental optimism. World-system theories could provide useful frame to interpret existing data.

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