Some of these changes are both remarkable and counter-intuitive, but all have their roots in the demographic “explosion” in the 1950s and 1960s when the average Kazakh woman had seven children and, as a result of improved medical care, most of them lived to adulthood, the scholar continues.
Between 1959 and 1989, the number of ethnic Kazakhs increased by 2.4 times, a rise that “was not only the highest indicator in the USSR but one of the highest in the world.” As a result, one can say that “the 1950s and 1960s became ‘the golden age’ of Kazakh demography, Alekseyenko continues.
“The functioning of the present-day demographic situation [in Kazakhstan] depends to a large degree on the generation born at that time,” he says. “In the 1970s-1980s, ‘the generation of the explosion’ gradually entered the age of social activity.” Their entrance was most clearly seen in the ethnic composition of students.
“In 1980-1981, Kazakhs formed 49.8 percent of the total while Russians formed 34.8 percent.” Eight years later, Kazakhs had risen to 54.2 percent, while Russians had fallen to 31.2 percent. “By the end of the Soviet period, Kazakhs were the most educated people in Kazakhstan.”
This change was not the result of government preferences but rather a product of the fact that “the majority of the population of Kazakhstan” in student age groups were Kazakhs, “representatives of ‘the generation of the explosion.” But as they gained educations, Kazakhs had fewer children, 3.6 per woman per lifetime in 1989 compared to seven 30 years earlier.
When this generation began to have children, it had far fewer. In 1986-1987,only 828,000 ethnic Kazakhs were born, “the lowest number in the demographic history of Kazakhstan” in modern times.” While most survived, that meant that succeeding generations would inevitably be smaller as well.
Today, the age structure of the Kazakh population reflects all of this, Alekseyenko says. Those born between 1949 and 1968 and who are now mostly pensioners form 18 percent of the population, while their children who form the core of the working age population and were born between 1979 and 1993 form 24 percent.
The generation that will appear in the coming decade will be smaller still and will have fewer children, thus reducing the republic’s demographic prospects. That is all the more so because the parents of that time were born in the 1990s when birthrates dropped precipitously. In 1996-1997, for example, the number born was just over half of those born a decade earlier.
Yet another factor pushing down birthrates is that ethnic Kazakhs are moving into the cities to replace ethnic Russians who have left. Under urban conditions, they too are having fewer children than would have been the case had they remained in the villages, the demographer points out.