Monday, April 18, 2016

Russia’s Demographic Problems Limit Its Potential for Development, Analysts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 18 – Many reports from Russia lead one to recall the question Groucho Marx often posed – “who are you going to believe, your own eyes or what I tell you?”  So it is with demographic issues where researchers say only half of 16-year-olds will live to retirement but a Russian governor says Putin’s policies mean Russians will now live to be 120 years old.

            In a commentary on the portal, investigator Aleksey Shchebetov argues that Russia’s situation is so serious htat “even if oil prices go back up and the much-talked-about structural reforms occur … demographic problems in strongest way will limit the potential of Russian growth” (

            Because the number of Russian workers has been falling from a high of 90 million in 2006, he continues, and because demographic analysis shows that these declines are going to accelerate in the coming years, even a dramatic upswing in productivity would not allow the Russian economy to grow.

            Indeed, Shchebetov says, “put in simplest terms, the reduction in the number of people is no less dangerous for development than the reduction in the amount of capital,” even though the latter currently gets far more attention. Immigration won’t make up for this, especially if the ruble exchange rates remain low and thus work in Russia unattractive.

            According to his report, “one of the solutions of the problem analysts see in raising the pension age,” but that isn’t convincing. Not only are there ever fewer pensioners but most of those who now draw pensions work if their health permits.  And it is also the case that younger people are more likely to be the kind of risk takers on whom economic breakthroughs depend.

            Aleksandr Krutelyov, a nutritionist who heads a regional branch of the Health of Russia organization, is even more devastating in his description of the demographic situation in Russia and in the ways the existing system is exacerbating the problems rather than addressing them in a useful way (

            He says that statistics show that over the last two decades, the number of Russians infected with tuberculosis has increased 200 times, that Russia leads the world in mortality rates from circulatory diseases and mental illness. And that its health rating “shamefully” puts it between East Timor and Iraq.

            Illness among Russian children under the age of 14, Krutelyov says, has increased by 50 percent over the last two decades; and “according to the World Health Organization, no more than 50 percent of 16-year-old boys will live to pension age.” That understates the problem, however.

            The WHO estimate is based on a simple “extrapolation” of current trends, he writes. But in fact, any honest evaluation of Russia’s epidemiological situation and of its existing medical system shows that the situation is only getting worse.  One can say, he suggests, that “the fabric of health care [in Russia] has been destroyed.”

            “Ignoring this fact is irresponsible and criminal,” Krutelyov says. Indeed, “the medical-biological catastrophe has gone beyond the limits of the problems of medical and biological science and become a social, economic, political, demographic and worldview problem” that must be addressed.

            Unfortunately, he argues, Russian medicine is moving in the wrong direction. It is more concerned about earning money by prescribing medications and procedures than about health and it is supported by a government that backs the treatment of symptoms of illness rather than promotes good health by timely intervention and cures.

            Krustelyov concludes his description of the medical and hence demographic ills of the Russian people with the following words: “On one-seventh of the surface of the earth, everything has been destroyed without war” by officials, doctors and businesses uninterested in Russia’s future. 

            Russia has become “a jail, the country a crematorium and a cemetery. ‘You are still alive?’” such officials and doctors ask the population.  “’Then we will come to you!’” and solve that problem.

            But many Russians may prefer to listen to officials who provide a more upbeat assessment, including not only those who say that the declining number of workers means that there is likely to be less unemployment and the declining number of pensioners means that workers won’t have to bear the burden they do in other countries.

            However, one Russian official, Svetlana Orlova, the governor of Vladimir Oblast, may have over-fulfilled the Kremlin’s plan. She said last week that thanks to Vladimir Putin’s policies, Russians “will live to 120 years of age,” nearly 50 more than they do today (

            “This is a reality,” not a dream, she told a regional forum about life after 50 and “all the plusses of advanced age.  The number of elderly people “will inevitably grow,” she said; and businesses must get ready to serve this growing market. 

            Orlova’s picture of the elderly may not square with what many Russians see around them.  According to her, she routinely sees citizens aged 95 who “have a better member than those who are 50,” adding that Russians can thank President Vladimir Putin for all such achievements.

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