Wednesday, November 18, 2015

‘Traditional Family’ Said Making a Comeback in Russia-- But It’s Mostly Rural and Muslim

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 18 – The “traditional” family that Vladimir Putin and Russian nationalist want in which couples marry early and have three or four children is in fact becoming more numerous in the Russian Federation, but that comeback may not please everyone because most such families are either in villages or in traditionally Muslim ones.

            Urban Russians continue to behave more like their European counterparts, marrying later and having fewer or even no children.  As a result, villagers will continue to increase at more rapid rates than urban residents, and Muslim regions and many non-Russian regions will grow relative to Russian ones, thus shifting the ethnic balance in the country still further.

            Using unpublished Rosstat data, Sergey Zakharov, the deputy director of the Institute of Demography at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, focused on the transformation of the Russian family with the urban one going in one direction and the rural and non-Russian one going in quite another (

            Examining statistics for the Russian Federation as a whole, he says, shows that “on the one hand, the number of childless women is growing” and approaching 15 percent, the level in most developed countries but “on the other hand, a segment of Russian families measured by number of children and the speed of forming a family is moving in the opposite direction,” with more children born and over a shorter period of time.

            If one looks at the first, one would conclude that Russia is completing its second “demographic revolution;” but if one considers the second, it would appear that Russia is making “a step backward” in that regard.  Zakharov used by longitudinal and regional data to consider which trend may win out.

            Birthrates in the country as a whole have been falling more or less constantly since the 1920s, with each following generation having on average fewer children than its predecessor. That leads some to “pessimistic” conclusions. But in the last two years, the fertility rates for women in many rural and non-Russian areas of Russia have been “above 2.7.”

            That figure is far above the replacement level of  2.1 children per woman per lifetime that is needed – and also far above the figure for Russia as a whole which in 2014 was 1.75 children per woman per lifetime.  The explanation is that figures in urban areas and among ethnic Russians were much lower than that, well below replacement rates.

            The number of multi-child families is also growing, Zakharov says, with about 20 percent of younger women having three children and 10 percent having four. But at the same time, the share of women having two children has remained over the last 40 year largely unchanged at 40 percent, although the share of those with one has fallen over that period.

            At the end of Soviet times and in the first decades of Russian ones, the age at which women gave birth to their first children fell dramatically but now that decline has stopped overall, a reflection of moves in the other direction among rural Russians and non-Russian nationalities.

            There is thus an increasing gap between city and countryside in Russia, reversing an earlier trend toward its reduction, and “territorial variations in rural areas ‘exceed the level of the end of the 1970s and even the level of the 1950s,’” Zakharov says, with non-Russian ones having far higher fertility rates than Russian ones.

            The growth in the number of women having three of four children is found largely in rural areas and especially in non-Russian republics and among non-Russians more generally who had high levels of fertility in the past and have not yet “completed the demographic transition to lower fertility.”

                Pro-natalist policies are having some effect, he suggested. In 2013, the only groups showing an increase in birth were in families where at least one parent was a non-Russian. In 2014, these groups, who are far outnumbered by ethnic Russians, accounted for only 30 percent of the increase. But clearly most of the rise came in rural areas, not Russian cities.

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