Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Deeper Social Trends, Not State Policies, Affecting Fertility Rates in the Russian Federation, Demographer Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 30 – Even the slightest uptick in birthrate figures in the Russian Federation is celebrated by Moscow as evidence of the efficacy of Russian government actions, but in fact a new study shows the impact of government policy on this most personal of choice is much less than many assume.

            Not only do the summary figures Moscow routinely trumpets conceal still-enormous differences among the nations of the country with non-Russian and especially non-Orthodox peoples typically still having higher fertility rates and larger growth rates because of higher ones in earlier generations, but they conceal some deeper trends that may matter even more.

            In a study, a summary of which as posted online yesterday, Yevgeny Andreyev of the Center for Demographic Research of the Russian School of Economics, calls attention to several of these trends on the basis of his study of demographic statistics in the USSR and the Russian Federation for the period of 1965 to 2012 (

            The data show, he says, that “government measures in the area of demographic policy do not always lead to a growth in the fertility rate.” Instead, at least three deeper and broader patterns are at work, patterns that the state can affect at the margins but does not seem able to change in any fundamental way.

            First, Andreyev points out, over the last few years Russia has benefitted from a worldwide trend.  Beginning in 2008, he notes, there was “a worldwide trend” away from “the super-lower fertility” of the previous decade.  “In all countries where the fertility rate was 1.2 to 1.3 children per woman, it growth began.”

            Second, fertility patterns changed in the Russian Federation according to what the demographer calls “conformist fertility.” “In the USSR, unlike countries with a market economy, all women had a similar or almost similar number of children. Now, a polarization has begun” with women in business often having none and those not having three or even more.

            And third, other social problems, including patterns of alcohol consumption, clearly appear to have an impact on fertility rates, although the exact relationship remains a hypothetical one pending further research. Some surveys suggest that “families of men who drink have fewer children,” but one cannot yet say this is true across the entire country.

            Government policy can affect these trends at the margins, but unless that policy is far more radical than has been the case recently, it will not change them dramatically. In support of that view, Andreyev points to the impact of Gorbachev’s extremely unpopular and ill-fated anti-alcohol campaign.

            Thanks to that effort, the Soviet Union reached a fertility rate of 2.2 children per woman per lifetime, the first time it had reached replacement levels since 1963, an outcome that even pro-natalist Soviet government policies had not achieved. Another benefit of that campaign was that live expectancies reached their highest level ever – one that Russian men have not approached since.

                Andreyev says that the data do not support the frequently-advanced claims that Vladimir Putin’s maternal capital program has been responsible for the growth in fertility rates.  In fact, fertility had begun to grow “long before the December 2006 adoption of that law” and the boost in the numbers in the months following in fact reflected pre-legislative behavior.

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