Friday, January 1, 2016

Absent ‘Revolutionary Change,’ Russia’s Population Decline to Accelerate in Coming Decades, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 1 – Unless “revolutionary” steps are taken – something Moscow has shown no taste for given that it has spent less than half as much on boosting s than it did on the Sochi Olympiad – Russia’s demographic decline will accelerate in the coming years and its population will fall in this century to just over half of what it is now.

            Those are just some of the worrisome projections of Russian demographers surveyed by Aleksey Polubota and Varvara Sobolyeva in an article for the Svobodnaya pressa portal posted online today that follows the December 25 vote by the Federation Council to extend the maternal capital program, albeit at reduced levels (

            The decision to extend the program, the two journalists say, “says on the one hand that the state recognizes the seriousness of the demographic challenges standing before it” but “on the other, demographers have said for a long time that such a measure is capable of giving only a short-term effect.”

            Boris Denisov, a demographer at Moscow State University, says that maternal capital has had an impact in some places on how many children Russians have and when they have them but he stresses that the program has not been all that large. Over nine years, Moscow has spent 20 billion US dollars on this effort to boost the birthrate, less than half of what it spent on Sochi.

            Now, the Russian government is reducing the amount it spends on this program still further and consequently, the size of the Russian population will fall because the number of women in prime childbearing age groups will fall, deaths among the last “’Soviet generations’” will increase, and migration won’t be able to compensate.

            Igor Beloborodov, a specialist at the Russian Institute for Strategic Research (RISI), says that if the government had not extended the maternal capital program, the country’s demographic situation would be even worse given the impact of the economic crisis. But he said no one should expect any “grandiose increase” in the birthrate as a result.

            “For example,” he says, “in regions like the Caucasus and Buryatia, the level of second births even earlier was relatively high, but in the northwestern regions of Russia, where the demographic crisis is most manifest, the situation has remained almost unchanged” despite this program.

            Beloborodov suggests that Russia should adopt “more creative decisions” in this area, including a television propaganda campaign to promote the idea that families should include three or four children and not just one or none as now. In doing so, he says, Russia would not only be saving itself but showing the way for other countries as well.

            The immediate challenge for Russia is truly enormous, he continues.  Given the decline in the number of women in prime reproductive age cohorts, “young [Russian] mothers must give birth significantly more than now. That is, if today, on average for improving the demographic situation, they need to have 2.2 children each, by 2025, this figure could be boosted to 2.5.”

            (Beloborodov does not say so but such a boost in such a short period of time is almost unprecedented in international experience except immediately after military conflicts and for a relatively short period at that.)

            And Yury Krupnov of the Moscow Institute of Demography, Migration and Regional Development, says that Moscow is going to have to do a lot more if it hopes to avoid a real demographic collapse.  In the short term, Russia cannot avoid falling into another “demographic pit.”

            Over the next 13 years, he says, the number of women in prime childbearing cohorts will fall, with the lowest point being in 20215 when there will be almost half as many such women as there were in 2010, “with all the ensuing consequences” of fewer babies, smaller families, and declines in the population.

            Many in Moscow have been shouting about “victories and a large birthrate” in Russia in recent years, but “nevertheless, by the end of this century according to the mid-range scenario, if the current trends continue, there will remain a little more than half of the current population – about 80 million people.”

            That prospect should cause officials to think about “revolutionary means” of boosting the birthrate, including those which will change cultural attitudes and patterns.  If Russia is to avoid this disaster, Krupnov says, women should have on average four children rather than the one they do now.


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