Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Window on Eurasia: All Demographic Projections Show Each Russian Worker Having to Support More Children and/of Retirees

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 18 – Depending on the assumptions made, projections of Russia’s population growth over the next two generations range from a small amount of growth to a significant decline. But they all agree that working-age Russians will form a smaller percentage of the population than they do now and thus have to support more non-workers.

            If Russia is able to boost fertility rates – something experts suggest Moscow is unlikely to be able to do – there will be more children to support, and if it is able to extend life expectancies by driving down the current super-high mortality rates among adult males – again something in which few experts have little confidence – there will be more retirees relative to workers.

            Consequently, even if Russia achieves demographic successes – and the Kremlin can be counted on to trumpet them as it has the small rise in the number of births over deaths and increase in fertility rates over the last several years – the country will face another and larger demographic problem.

            On the one hand, this problem will be familiar to people in Western countries where the share of the working-age population has been declining given longer life expectancies. But on the other, it will hit Russia even harder than it is hitting them because the productivity and hence incomes of Russian workers are so much lower and hence this burden all the greater.

                 In the current “Demoscope Weekly,” Yevgeny Andreyev, a senior scholar at the Center for Demographic Reearch at the Russian Economics School and Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Institute of Demography at the Higher School of Economics, describe this problem ( and

            The two demographers developed 36 different models depending on different assumptions about changes in the fertility rate, life expectancy, and immigration. Of these, nine projected some population growth, 12 pointed to a stabilization of the size of the population, and 15 showed a decline in the coming decades.

            But all 36 showed that the share of the working-age population within the total population will decline either because there will be more children as the result of pro-natalist policies or because there will be more older people thanks to improvements in health care and a possible decline in alcohol consumption.

            At the present time, there are 512 Russians below the age of 19 or above the age of 65 for every 1000 Russians in the prime working-age cohort of 20 to 65, statistics show, but the “most conservative” projections show there will be 650 non-workers for every 1,000 workers in the future, and 19 of the 36 projections show that there will be more than 700 to that1000.

            As Andreyev and Vishnevsky point out, such a trend has been and will continue to be the pattern in most advanced countries.  In recent years, Russia has been an exception with even lower fertility rates than many and especially far lower life expectancies.  But now Russia appears to be converging with the others.

            At the request of the Russian economic development ministry, the two demographers developed 36 models of Russia’s probable population change depending on a combination of optimistic and pessimistic assumptions about all three factors involved: changes in the birthrate, changes in life expectancy, and changes in migration.

            With regard to birth rates, the optimistic projections assumption that the goals Vladimir Putin has outlined will be met. But they say that the pessimistic scenarios under which these goals will not be chieved, “must not be excluded” because there is always the possibility of new crises or other unforeseen events.

            With regard to life expectancy, the two scholars say, the range of possibilities is much larger from pessimistic ones which assume little change in this area to much longer life expectancies, although they suggest that the latter is much less probable than many in Moscow now think.

                And with regard to immigration, they suggest that it is likely to remain somewhere in a range “no lowerthan 200,000” nor “higher thn 600,000” annually. Moving outside that range would create real bottlenecks in the first case and potentially serious social and political ones in the latter.

            What makes the Andreyev-Vishnevsky study important is that it represents a departure from most Russian demographic analyses.  Most of them focus on changes in one factor while holding all others constant, but this one considers a combination of changes in all three, high, low, or constant, and then provides 36 different projections.

             Because these factors are inter-related, with rises in one potentially driving down another, their approach allows the two scholars to avoid either the unwarranted optimism of many officials or the apocalypticism of some analysts. One can only hope that Andreyev and Vishnevsky will extend this approach to other demographic issues as well.

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