Saturday, November 18, 2017

Russian Government Urged to Adapt to Rather than Fight Demographic Decline

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 17 – Researchers from the Center for Strategic Development and the Higher School of Economics say that the Russian authorities should seek to adapt their policies to the projected demographic declines in Russia rather than think that they can overcome these “inevitable” developments.

            According to their research, the Russian population will decline between 400,000 and a million a year by the 2030s with the total falling 14 million by mid-century and reducing Russia’s population ranking in the world from ninth to 15th place, behind Tanzania, the Philippines and Mexico (

            Moreover, the scholars say, Siberia and the Russian Far East will continue to lose population with people moving south and west rather than north and east as was the case in Soviet times when the government used a combination of force and subsidies to drive people in the opposite direction.

            Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Higher School of Economics’ Institute of Demography and the leader of this study, says that present-day Russia faces “seven groups” of demographic challenges, the most significant of which is underpopulation in many parts of the country.

            Between 1950 and 1992, the population of the Russian republic increased from 103 million to 148.6 million, but in the years since that time, it has continually declined – and that decline shows no sign of letting up. Indeed, because the amount of Slavic in-migration from other former Soviet republics has slowed, this decline is certain to accelerate.

            The slight uptick in natural growth that began in 2013 which the Kremlin has celebrated was both “very small and has no future because [even] according to official predictions, it will soon end.”  Vishnevsky adds that UN predictions suggest that the population of Russia will decline even more than Rosstat acknowledges.

            Another demographic problem Russia faces is that it lacks a large number of big cities. Only Moscow and St. Petersburg are really megalopolises. There are only 15 millionaire cities, and “only three of them are beyond the Urals. This is very few for such an enormous country as Russia,” the demographer says.

            In addition, Russia’s population is aging, and now that trend is pushing down the size of the working-age cohort, something that has never happened before in Russian history and that no government seems to have a good answer on how to reverse. There are three other challenges as well – declining birthrates, high mortality rates, and migration.

            The government can affect the latter two by spending more on health care, the opposite of what it is doing now and by imposing rules against or working to attract more immigrants and improving their conditions so that they will remain.  But changing birthrates is harder because they reflect deeper and broader trends.

            According to Vishnevsky, however, “the main distinguishing characteristic of the demographic policy of the country is that up to now, ‘there has not been a clear answer to the question: does Russia need people?’” Migration is the only way available to boost population because “there are no internal demographic resources in the country left.”


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