Tuesday, March 7, 2017

‘Russia is on the Brink of a New Demographic Crisis’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 7 – After several years of growth, reflecting falling death rates and an uptick in birthrates among prime child-bearing cohorts, Russia is now “on the brink of a new demographic crisis” that may rival the one it experienced in the 1990s, according to experts surveyed by Anastasiya Bashkatova of Nezavisimaya gazeta.

            Not only is the size of the prime child-bearing cohort of women declining because fewer children were born in the 1990s but the number of children they are choosing to have is falling as well, the result of widespread secular trends and the impact of the current economic crisis (ng.ru/economics/2017-03-07/1_6943_demografy.html).

            Consequently, Russia’s population is set to decline again, possibly at a more rapid rate than earlier; and if the government wants to prevent that, demographers say that it will have to come up with a richer maternal capital program as well as other measures to convince Russian women to have more children.

            Last year, Baskatova says, Russia experienced “the sharpest decline in the number of children born” -- a falloff of some 51,000 babies – over the last 16 years, and the number of births per 1,000 residents fell from 13.3 to 12.9, far below replacement level. Even with improved mortality statistics, these numbers will drive the population down.

            A recent study by Moscow demographers says “in the immediate future, Russia risks encountering a repetition of the demographic problems of the 1990s,” given “the prolonged financial-economic crisis” and the size of the prime maternal cohort.  And they concluded that the maternal capital program in its current form is insufficient to defend against that trend.

            Among the most pessimistic analysts is Andrey Korotayev of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics. He points out that there is little anyone can do about the size of the prime birthing cohort and it will fall for some time, but he adds that the impact on birthrates as a result of the economic crisis will be sizeable, although no one knows exactly how much.

            Others like Alla Makarentseva of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service are more optimistic, but they admit that there are problems ahead and that there will be at least some temporary declines unless the government intervenes massively to make giving birth to more children attractive.

            The problem is that any such program will be extremely expensive, and the government does not now have the resources it would need to devote in this area to make a real difference.


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