Monday, February 5, 2018

Russian Population May Never Increase Again, Even with Immigrants Included, Analyst Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 5 – 2017 is likely to go down in history as the last year “when the population of Russia increased even when immigrants are counted,” according to an analysis of demographic data by Yevgeny Chernyshov of Yekaterinburg’s Nakanune news agency which finds that the underlying factors are overwhelmingly negative and becoming ever more so.

            The number of children born in Russia in 2017 was the lowest over the last decade. According to Rosstat, 1,690,000 children were born while 1,824,000 Russians died, leading to the largest loss of population (134,000) not taking into account immigration since 2012 (

            The natural decline was covered in 2017, Chernyshov continues, but immigration was the smallest since 1991 and according to preliminary figures amounted to only 207,000.  What is striking, he says, is that in 2008 when roughly the same number of children were born, the fertility rate was 1.5 but now it is 1.6.

The reason is the decline in the number of women in the prime child-bearing cohort. In the space of one year, 2016, the number of women aged 25 to 29 declined from 6.12 million to 5.84 million.  If this trend continues and there is every reason to think it will, the number of births in Russia in the coming years will decline to 1.3 million – what it was in the 1990s.

The number of births fell in 2017 “in all regions without exception,” although somewhat more in predominantly ethnic Russian regions than in Muslim ones.  Mortality rates continue to decline but no one should be complacent about that given how high they were in the turbulent 1990s.

“Russia up to now has not reached the level of mortality even of 1990,” Chernyshov says; “and there is every reason to suppose that it will not do so in the foreseeable future,” if for no other reason than the population is aging, and older people die more frequently than do those who are younger.

In 1989, 30 percent of the Russian population was under 20, while 15 percent was over 60. In 2017, the proportions were very different: only 22 percent were under 20, while 21 percent were over 60. Among other things, the analyst continues, that means that “the average age of the population increased from 35 to 40, a lot over such a short period.”

Life expectancy also increased, but any pleasure in that “must not eclipse another truth,” Chernyshov says. In 1990, life expectancy at birth was 69, and 1.66 million people died; in 2017, it reached approximately 72.5 years, but 1.82 million died, 160,000 more than in the earlier year. That is because the population was older.

Consequently, the increase in life expectancy about which the government constantly talks “is nothing more than ‘a consolation price’ in the difficult demographic defeat which Russia is experiencing.” What the government is in effect saying is that “the country is dying but we are glad that those who remain are living a little longer.”

And there is no reason to boast about the decrease in infant mortality either. Yes, it fell to 5.5 per 1,000 in 2017, don by 0.5 from a year earlier.  That means that about a thousand children lived who earlier would have died. “A thousand lives is a good thing, but the misfortune is that there were 203,000 fewer newborns to start with in Russia last year.”

There was an unexpected jump in the number of marriages in 2017 by 6.5 percent. The number of divorces also increased by 0.5 percent. That means that “for every 1,000 marriages, there were fewer divorces, 582 as opposed to 617 a year earlier.”

Ever more Russian couples are living together without benefit of marriage, but suggestions that their situation should be equated with those who are married are misplaced, Chernyshov argues.  Ever more children are born out of wedlock – 23 percent according to some estimates – and that means that two out of three of these are then raised in one parent situations. 

Russians are getting married later. In 1990, 59 percent of all marriages were concluded by a woman under 25. Today, only a third of them are. As a result, the analyst continues, “the average age of women at the time of the birth of their first child has increased from 25.3 to 28.4 years.

Moreover, and despite government incentives, Russians have increased the number of years between each child from an average of three years in 1990 to six years now. That means fewer children especially given that the first now arrives much later than was the case a generation ago.

Immigration has covered much of this trend, Chernyshov says; but that isn’t likely to continue. In 2018, estimates are that only about 200,000 immigrants will arrive, just about enough to continue to cover projected indigenous population declines. But in the following years, it would have to jump.

In 2020, it is projected that deaths will exceed births by 400,000 and two years later by 500,000, requiring immigration to more than double to prevent Russia’s population from continuing to decline. That isn’t likely to happen, Chernyshov says; and so 2017 may come to be remembered as the last year ever when the population increased.

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