Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Economic Crisis, Talk of War Making Russia’s Demographic Situation Worse, Nikolayev Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 12 – The demographic numbers for Russia in January 2019 are in, Igor Nikolayev says, and they show that the country’s “demographic pit is becoming a chasm,” the result in the first instance of the economic crisis and the Kremlin’s talk of war and one that is hitting ethnic Russians harder than anyone else, Igor Nikolayev says.

            In the middle of this decade, the Kremlin celebrated the first positive demographic numbers since the end of Soviet times with births up, deaths down, and migration boosting the total population. Then things went off track and now, the economist continues, all three are heading the wrong direction (echo.msk.ru/blog/nikolaev_i/2386915-echo/).

            Russian officials seek to blame this as a echo of the 1990s when low birthrates meant that fewer future mothers were born, but that is a trend that was knowable in advance and should have given pause to the upbeat claims of several years ago. Now, however, Nikolayev says, it is clear that the chief culprits are the economic crisis and the talk of war.

            On the one hand, with falling incomes, people are less willing to take on the additional responsibilities that having children impose and those in other countries do not see the same opportunities in Russia that they saw earlier and thus are not coming in the first place or going home or elsewhere instead or remaining.

            And on the other, all the talk about Russia being “a besieged fortress” and war being a very real possibility hardly creates the kind of conditions in which potential parents are going to think about having children. Even if they want them, they seem likely to put off having babies until the situation clarifies itself.     

            Last year, according to Rosstat, “the size of the population of the country fell by 93,500. Such an absolute decline had not happened in Russia since 2008 when the population fell 10,300.” Not only were there fewer births and more deaths, some the result of the aging population, but immigration was insufficient to cover the decline in Russia itself.

Figures provided by the central ZAGS register for January 2019 are even worse: “the number of children born in January 2019 fell by 10.4 percent compared to January 2018.” The natural decline of the population for one month alone increased from 30,308 in January 2018 to 44,307 in January this year, Nikolayev says.

What all this means, the economist continues, is that the demographic situation in 2019 will “significantly worsen.” Another indication of that is this: “In January 2018, there were 49,500 marriages; but in January 2019, there were only 31,185, a decline of 36.4 percent. “ Of course, children are born out of wedlock as well, “but all the same …”

The government talks about the aid it is giving to parents, but this is insufficient, Nikolayev argues. Unless the economic situation improves and unless the government stops talking about war and about Russia being at risk of being destroyed, Russians are not going to have more children. They are going to have ever fewer – and the population will fall.

            Within these figures are ones that will disturb many ethnic Russians even more: The regions of the country with the highest death rates in 2018 are those who are primarily populated by ethnic Russians (rg.ru/2019/03/12/reg-skfo/v-kakih-regionah-samaia-nizkaia-smertnost-v-rossii.html).

            That means that as the overall population of the country declines, the share of ethnic Russians in it will decline by even more, making the Kremlin’s claims on that point unsustainable as well, as some Russian nationalist commentators are already pointing out (zen.yandex.ru/media/burckina_new/o-vymiranii-istoricheskoi-rossii-5c85f0730f8f1500b33866b8).

            And some analysts are even suggesting that the real figures are far worse than those Rosstat has put out (apn-spb.ru/opinions/article29836.htm).  If that is true, then the real demographic picture of Russia under Vladimir Putin is far worse than even the most convinced pessimists have ever suggested.

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