Sunday, August 16, 2015

Another ‘Echo of the 1990s’ – Russia’s Demographic Collapse Resumes

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 16 – Despite some progress in reducing infant mortality, Russia’s demographic crisis so clearly on display in the 1990s is resuming not only because of rising mortality rates among working age people but also because the prime child-bearing cohort of women is smaller than ever because of super-low birthrates two decades ago.

            In what Russian commentator Yevgeniya Vorobyeva describes as “an echo of the demographic pit of the 1990s,” the Russian population is set to resume its decline because, even if the government can push up the birthrate slightly, there are simply far fewer Russian women to give birth (

            The Russian Federation has made genuine progress in reducing infant mortality over the last several years, she reports, with the number of deaths per thousand falling from 8.6 per 1,000 live births in 2012 to 6.6 in the first half of 2015, even though Moscow has now adopted WHO standards that might have been expected to push the figure up.

            Moreover, she continues, infant mortality has fallen across the country with 55 of the 85 federal subjects reporting declines. What is especially worrisome is that predominantly ethnic Russian Pskov oblast not only has the highest rate of infant mortality in the country but has seen its rate from by 86 percent over the last year.

            According to Russian health experts, Vorobyeva says, 40 percent or more of the infant deaths in Russia are caused by social factors like alcoholism and drug use by parents or their failure to take their children to doctors or hospitals or to get required vaccinations.

            But “despite the improvement of birth rates and the reduction of infant mortality, Russia faces demographic problems in the future,” she points out.  The reason is that the number of women entering the prime child-bearing years will fall by 50 percent over the next decade. Consequently, even if each were to have more children, the total number of births would fall.

            The impact of this decline in the number of potential mothers will become visible already in 2016, Igor Beloborodov, a demographic specialist with the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, says. The only reason it hasn’t been as obvious so far has been that Russians are starting families later than they were.

            Moreover, he continues, non-Russians had more children in the 1990s than Russians did and thus have more potential mothers now, along with a higher fertility rate. However, that means that the ethnic balance will shift against the Russians as well.

            Vorobyev cites the recent Moscow report, ”Ten Years from Now Will Be Too Late,” to the effect that “the decline of the birthrate in the 1990s was much larger than even the demographic pit of World War II. In other words, the number of Russians not born as a result of the catastrophic decline in births at the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s several times exceeded the number of Russians not born as a result of World War II.”

            “The generation of the 1990s,” that report continued, “was the smallest in the post-war period.” Not only did that mean that it would in turn give birth to fewer children when it came of age, even if birthrates remained the same, but it has contributed to the aging of the population. Over the last decade, the number of elderly Russians has gone up by three million.

            Another worrisome problem, Vorboyeva adds, is that mortality among working-age Russians is rising.  In 2014, for example, mortality rates among Russians aged 30 to 45 went up by 1.2 percent.

            Thus, she concludes, the general demographic picture of the country is not a happy one. “If the situation doesn’t improve, the country will face problems in economics, international competitiveness, and over the longer term, in geopolitics as well.”

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