Sunday, February 10, 2019

North Caucasians No Longer Compensating for Low Birthrates among Ethnic Russians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 9 – Much attention has been devoted to the fact that immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus are no longer arriving in Russia numbers sufficient to cover the demographic shortfall among the indigenous population, but less has been focused on another development that may have even longer-term consequences.

            Birthrates among Muslim peoples of the North Caucasus are falling. As a result, this trend means that they will not cover a portion of the demographic decline of Russia’s demographic decline.  But it also means that the demographic shift from Slavs to Muslims in Russia may not be as great as many expected.

            After several years of improvement, much celebrated by the Kremlin, Russia in 2018 again entered into a period of steep demographic decline, with more deaths than births because of an aging population, falling birthrates and declines in the size of the prime child-bearing cohort of women (

            These trends were exacerbated by declines in the number of immigrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus, a development some Russians welcomed because of their attitudes toward these culturally and linguistically dissimilar groups but that has meant the total population of the Russian Federation has fallen even faster than most expected. 

            All those developments had become commonplace in discussions of Russia’s future. But the past week brought news of another that has the potential to drive down the size of the population of the Russian Federation further and faster and change the prospects for the growth of the Muslim population relative to the Slavic one.

            The labor ministry reports that in each of three federal subjects of the North Caucasus Federal District, Stavropol, Karachay-Cherkessia, and Kabardino-Balkaria, the birthrate in 2018 fell below the all-Russian average for perhaps the first time in modern history (

            Historically, these and other North Caucasus regions have had far higher birthrates than those of Slavic areas and, once much higher infant and child mortality rates were knocked down over the last two generations, they also had dramatically higher growth rates than other parts of the country.

            Now, that is not the case, at least for these three subjects, two of which are predominantly Muslim, although it is still true of others in the region. But birthrates are falling across the region as a result of urbanization, modernization, and in the last several years increasingly dire poverty and loss of hope in the future.

            As a result, Moscow officials like labor minister Maksim Topilin are now talking about the need to promote birthrates in the North Caucasus, something they had not done in the past and something many Russian nationalists are likely to be aghast at even now.  Vladimir Zhirinovsky has even called for officials to promote birth control in the North Caucasus (
            “We are accustomed to saying that in the regions of the North Caucasus everything is fine [with regard to birthrates] but in other regions everything is bad. But I would like to turn attention to the fact that in the last two years, indicators connected with the birth of children here show a tendency to decline (
            Birthrates in Daghestan, Chechnya and Ingushetia are still above the all-Russian average, he acknowledged; but the notion that there are “extremely high birthrates in the North Caucasus is a stereotype” given recent developments.  In 2017, those rates fell in every region of the North Caucasus, except for predominantly ethnic Russian Stavropol.
            Falling birthrates in the North Caucasus is not only a sign that the region is changing but are a precondition for further and more radical changes, according to Konstantin Kazenin of the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service (
                It is leading to a change in power relations between men and women in families and to shifts in attitudes about society more generally, he says. That will accelerate the decline of traditional elements in these societies, albeit at different rates, and that in turn may spark the kind of reaction that one sees in modernizing countries elsewhere in the Muslim world. 

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