Staunton, April 4 – For the first time in a decade, life expectancy at birth in the Russian Federation has declined, the Russian state statistical agency says, and while the decline was small, demographers say that it reflects a disturbing trend, one that also includes the end of the much-ballyhooed mini-“baby boom” in that country.
According to a report in yesterday’s “Izvestiya” whose journalists obtained a copy of the Rosstat report to the Russian government’s trilateral commission for regulating social and labor relations, the life expectancy figure for both sexes fell by almost a month over the last year to 69.70 years (izvestia.ru/news/547880).
That projection, Vladimir Arkhangelsky, a demographer at Moscow State University, told the paper, is based on the assumption that mortality levels will remain where they are now “in all age groups.” Given that Russia suffers from extremely high mortality rates among working age males, that figure could improve if alcohol consumption were cut and public health improved.
Because life expectancy figures are calculated from birth and death rates, Rosstat also released these in its report. In 2012, the agency said, there were 13.3 live births per 1,000 residents barely enough to compensate 13.1 deaths per 1,000 Russian residents, Yuri Krupnov, an expert at the Institute of Demography, Migration and Regional Development.
According to Krupnov, the 2012 results are a produce of the economic and social situation of the early 1990s “when birthrates fell sharply to levels below death rates,” a pattern that held for most of that decade and led to a decline in the Russian population. Since 2003, however, the situation had somewhat improved.
But now that life expectancies have returned to the levels of 1989, he continued, there is little chance that they will increase soon. Moreover, he said, the government could take credit for only 20 percent of the recent increases in births as a result of its pro-natalist policies. Most of the increase simply reflected a growth in the number of women in prime child-bearing years.
Indeed, if anything Russia faces a series of “unfavorable years,” ones in which there will be ever fewer women in their 20s who could give birth, with the number of that cohort declining by 50 percent in 2025. Because those women are already born, this is not an estimate but a simple projection.
Another expert, Andrey Akopyan, who heads the Republic Center for Human Reproduction and Family Planning, said that if current trends hold, Russia will approach the current life expectancies in the European Union countries only sometime between 2030 and 2045.
For that to change, he said, Russia would have to improve the economic well-being of the population, the availability of medicine, access to health services, and a change toward a healthier way of life, including a reduction in alcohol consumption. Even if it did all that, pushing up the numbers for life expectancy or fertility will be extremely difficult.
These new data from a source that typically puts the best spin on the figures that it can cast doubt on the optimistic predictions of President Vladimir Putin, United Russia and numerous Russian officials and commentators. But that is far from the most serious consequences they have.
On the one hand, they create serious bottlenecks in the economy and military draft for a country that has been used to rising populations and an extensive rather than intensive approach to growth. And on the other, they put additional pressure on the government to allow more immigration, despite the anger the influx of gastarbeiters has been generating among Russians.