Geographical polarization of sustainable welfare in Romania: The unbearable lightness of inequality of opportunity
Luana Pop 
|Abstract: Overall living conditions improved significantly in Romania during 2010-2020, even though over the entire period Romania has been one of the countries with the highest income inequality, poverty and social exclusion rates among the EU member states. Many research and policy analyses pointed out the improvements in social outcomes, as success stories of the economic and social reforms in Romania, despite the poor results from a European comparative perspective. Yet, starting with 2015, the number of those warning about concerning disparities between rural and urban areas increased. However, no systematic analyses focused on the dynamics of these geographical disparities. Thus, the paper proposes an analysis of the dynamics of the disparities between rural communities and cities. It argues that high and consistently growing disparities in all welfare indicators between these two extreme residential types can be better understood, explained, and addressed by applying the concept of geographical polarization to sustainable welfare. The paper provides a broad overview of the determinants of the growing polarization of sustainable welfare. It argues that European and national strategies have been crucial in guiding the social reforms in Romania, but not enough to prevent substantial loss of opportunities. The fast-paced transition to a market economy and to European institutions sparked an uneven and opportunistic development of its social policy framework. Finally, the concept of polarization of sustainable welfare, intimately linked to that of inequality of opportunities, allows a change of narrative and, therefore, also a change in focus regarding the need for social intervention, from remedial re-distributive measures and policies to strategies of enhancing individual and collective capabilities to sustain welfare over time.
Keywords: Geographical polarization; Sustainable welfare; Inequality of opportunities; Social policy; Regional disparities; EU strategies; Eastern Europe;
 Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, University of Bucharest, Romania, firstname.lastname@example.org.