Staunton, March 1 – Despite a pledge to boost spending on demographic programs by 40 percent over the next six years, Vladimir Putin concedes that Russia is on course to lose a million workers every year, something that will change the ethnic mix of the population and add to the burdens remaining workers must bear for children and pensioners.
The Kremlin leader in his speech to the nation today blamed “the demographic losses of the 1990s,” themselves an echo of World War II losses and the disorder following the end of the USSR, for this situation, which he said his government was seeking to overcome (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2018/03/01/nasha_demograficheskaya_politika_dokazala_svoyu_rezultativnost/).
Noting that demographic problems have “an economic dimension,” Putin said that in 2017, “the number of people in the population of working age had contracted by a million” and that “in the coming years, this trend will continue,” something that will constitute “a serious limitation for economic growth. There simply are no labor resources” coming on line.
Despite this, Putin insisted that his demographic policies had helped limit the problem and even had brought some dividends. Among the ones he mentioned were maternal capital spending, the building of polyclinics for children and the opening of polyclinic sections in hospitals.”
Although many would dispute his claims on these and other points, the Kremlin leader said he had “on the whole” solved the problem of kindergartens. That was critical, he suggested, because it gives “young mothers the chance to continue their educations or if someone wants to go to work” sooner.
In his address, Putin also claimed that he had had some success in boosting fertility rates and that any decline in the number of new births was the result primarily of a smaller pool of young women born in the late 1990s in prime child-bearing cohorts. That is true as far as it goes, but it is far from the whole story.
On the one hand, women in urban settings are increasingly inclined to have fewer children than their mothers did. That is a worldwide phenomenon that touches almost every group in every country. But on the other, at least some Russian women are choosing not to have children because of the economic crisis or because they expect things to get worse.
Russian blogger Pavel Pryanikov points to this latter cause, noting that scholars have found that potential parents decide whether to have children on the basis of what they expect the future to bring. If they think that things are going to get better, they are ready to have offspring; if not, not (newizv.ru/news/society/27-02-2018/simptomy-peremen-chto-predskazyvaet-rezkoe-padenie-rozhdaemosti).
Many potential Russian parents clearly have a negative view about the future and are convinced that in Putin’s Russia, each additional child makes it more likely that they will fall into poverty never to come out. One study has even suggested that having a single child pushes millions of Russians below the poverty line (russian.eurasianet.org/node/65159
Consequently, by electing not to have children, Russian women are casting a most important vote about the future of Russia under Putin; and in this “election,” neither he nor his minions have access to the kind of administrative measures that will ensure that he wins.