Thursday, January 2, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Five of the Seven Non-Russian Republics in the North Caucasus Now have Fertility Rates below Replacement Levels

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 2 – Five of the seven non-Russian republics in the North Caucasus – Chechnya and Ingushetia are the exceptions – now have fertility rates below replacement levels, a remarkable shift in reproductive behavior in less than a generation and one that points to a dramatic slowing of growth and ultimately a decline in many or all of them.

            That the Russian Federation as a whole is suffering a demographic crisis at least in part because of extremely low fertility rates is common ground, Igor Beloborodov, the director of the Moscow Institute of Demographic Research says, but most people assume that the situation of the non-Russians in the North Caucasus is an exception.

            They are wrong, he writes in a new report, because they fail to take into account changes in the demographic situation of the various nations in that region has changed significantly in recent years or to realize that the current trend is likely to continue and affect the Chechens and Ingushes as well (

            Drawing on data from the Russian Demographic Yearbook for 2012, Beloborodov reports the following fertility rates (number of children per woman per lifetime) for the republics of the North Caucasus. Chechnya with 3.36 and Ingushetia with 2.94 are the only ones above the replacement level of 2.2.

            The other republics currently have much lower rates, higher than the ethnic Russians but much lower than they were in the past and far below replacement levels:  Adygeya – 1.66, Daghestan –1.98, Kabardino-Balkaria –1.69, Karachayevo-Cherkessia – 1.54, and North Osetia – 1.86.

            To get an idea how far below these figures are compared to those in earlier times, Beloborodov gives fertility rates for some of the major nationalities in the region for women born before 1932 and for those born between 1958 and 1958-62. Among the Avars, the rates fell from 3.8 to 2.9, among the Ingush from 5.0 to 3.6, among Cherkess from 3.4 to 2.1, and among the Chechens 4.6 to 3.1.  Among ethnic Russians in the region, the rate fell from 2.1 to 1.75.

            This does not mean that the populations in these republics will fall immediately.  First, all of them still benefit from the much higher fertility rates they had earlier. Consequently, even if the succeeding generation of women has fewer children, there are more women doing so and hence population growth will continue for some time.

            Second, changes in population also reflect changes in mortality rates as well as immigration and emigration.  Because North Caucasians drink less and have healthier lifestyles than many Slavic groups, those who are born do not suffer from the super-high mortality rates of adult males seen among ethnic Russians.

            And third, these figures which are for republic population reflect the demographic behavior of all groups. Chechnya, which is almost exclusively Chechen, is at one end, whereas some of the others which include significant Russian populations are not and thus have their fertility rates affected by that.

            As ethnic Russians continue to leave and the republics become more mono-ethnic, there should be a slight uptick in the fertility rates or at a minimum a slowing of the declines that have been characteristic in recent years.  Moreover, these rates are and will continue to be affected in various ways by out-migration of gastarbeiters to other parts of the Russian Federation.

            In that regard, not only are most migrants young men who move without their families and are likely to have fewer children as a result, but various studies show that migrants are affected in decisions about family size by the populations they are living among, in this case the ethnic Russians.

            The combination of these factors has meant that the total populations of Adygeya, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkesia and North Osetia have declined since 2002 and are projected by Russian statisticians over the next several decades and that Daghestan and Chechnya will according to the middle range projections start to decline before 2030.

            These trends show that the peoples of the North Caucasus are part of the general demographic revolution directed toward ever smaller families and are not the outliers that they are normally assumed to be. Nonetheless, they are still growing more or declining less rapidly than the ethnic Russians, a pattern that will lead to changes in the demographic balance.

            More immediately, these trends mean that there is likely to be less demographic pressure for outmigration from the North Caucasus, something that might please many Russian nationalists but a development that would likely mean that Russia would have to draw an increasing number of workers from Central Asia where fertility rates remain higher.

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