Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Russia’s Demographic Decline Set to Resume with a Vengeance

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 3 – Russia has had seven straight years of population growth, but the situation now suggests that the country is about to resume the demographic decline that had characterized the situation after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, according to an analysis of government statistics by RBC’s Igor Terentyev.

            “2015 became the seventh year of population growth in the country,” something the Kremlin has been celebrating; “but the decline of birthrates and a number of other qualitative indicators suggest that the situation can quickly change for the worse, the commentator says (

            In its projections, Terentyev says, the Russian state statistic organ, Rosstat, suggests that Russia’s population will again begin to contract in 2018 because the number of women in prime child-bearing age groups will have fallen. But if one examines the data more closely, that seems overly optimistic he says, and the decline is likely to resume this year or next.

            Rosstat’s new release of data appears “at first glance” to include only positive numbers. Not only has total growth (including migrants) continued for seven years, but “natural growth (the excess of births over deaths) for the third year in a row has remained in the positive part” of the charts.

            Moreover, according to the statistical agency, births have outnumbered deaths in 44 regions, “the highest result for the period 2000-2010, and far greater than in 2000 when only 11 Russian regions could make that claim.  As expected, the greatest growth in absolute numbers was in the North Caucasus; the lowest in predominantly Russian Central Russia.

            Rosstat says in its preliminary figures that Russia as a whole added 32,700 people in 2015 and added 219,700 from in-migration, a figure “almost seven times greater than the natural growth.” But this migration “addition” is the smallest since 2000 when even in the worst year, 2002, Russia added 250,000 people to its population by migration.

            “Why then,” Terentyev asks, “is this year not as good as it seems?”  Leaving aside immigration, it is almost certain that in fact Russia’s natural increase in population fell in 2015.  That is because Rosstat estimated the growth in 2014 as 30,300 after initially announcing tha tit was 33,700. A similar reduction is likely for 2015 as well.

But what is most important is not this divergence but the trends of the underlying indicators.  In the first decade of this century, roughly 70 regions saw a natural growth in population; but “beginning in 2012, the number of such regions fell and in contrast the number of regions where natural growth declined increased in number.

That reflects a combination of the impact of birth rates and death rates. “A lowering of growth means the worsening of birthrates, death rates or the two together in a specific region.” This dynamic has worsened in a majority of regions over the last two to three years, the RBC analyst says.

Of the 20 regions with the highest birthrates, 17 saw them fall in 2015, and “as a result, for the second time in three years, the birthrate for the country as a whole fell.” Rosstat itself reported that in 2015, there were 1.944 million births, down slightly from the 1.947 million births the year before.

“One of the key factors influencing birthrates is the number of registered marriages,” and they are also falling. The number of marriages per 1,000 population reached its highest point after 2000 in 2011 and has been declining ever since.  The largest falloffs have been in Ingushetia, the Altay Republic and Chechnya.

In 2015, the marriage rate was comparable to that of 2006, Terentyev says.

All this suggests that 2015 was the tipping point and that Russia will again resume the negative demographic trends that characterized the 1990s.  That is especially true because the number of women in the prime childbearing age cohort is falling as these consist of the much-smaller number of children born in the 1990s.

If past behavior continues, “the fewer the number of potential mothers, the further will be the decline in birthrates and the natural growth of the population,” Terentyev concludes.

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