Staunton, September 25 – The fertility rate in Russia fell last year to 1.504 children per woman per lifetime, far below the replacement level of 2.1, below the figure of 1.579 of a year earlier, and below the Kremlin’s projected goal for last year of 1.63. In fact, the 2019 figure was the lowest since 2008.
These statistics, assembled and published by the Russian Accounting Chamber, provide little reason for optimism and suggest that the indigenous population of the country will continue to decline (ach.gov.ru/upload/iblock/5da/5daf07e05d0182c5a18d8c8923bcba61.pdf and datatopics.worldbank.org/world-development-indicators/).
The figure for last year and indeed all the figures for the last decade are above the lowest annual fertility rate in recent times, 1.16 children per woman per lifetime in 1999. But the current trend is negative and this year’s figure, because of the pandemic, is almost certain to be far lower than last year’s (rosstat.gov.ru/storage/mediabank/9t1WUjua/oper-07-2020.pdf).
Falling fertility rates compound Russia’s demographic problems because the aging of the population and continued super-high mortality rates for working-age Russians mean that the country’s population in the absence of more immigration than is expected will continue to fall over the next decade or more.
At the very least, experts say, it will be almost impossible to meet the target of 1.7 children per woman per lifetime in 2024 as Vladimir Putin called for in his May 2018 decrees. Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Moscow Institute of Demography, says that won’t happen if the government continues to pursue its current pro-natalist policies.
Those policies provide money for each child born, but “low fertility rates are observed not only among the poor” and consequently the government is giving money not just to those who desperately need it but to all women who give birth, an approach that may affect the timing of births but not their number.
If the government really wanted to boost the fertility rate, it would rely not on specific subsidies but on raising the standard of living in the country. If women give birth and are helped by the state while they are at home with children, that is one thing. “But if all families experience difficulties because a child is born, that means that not everything is in order in the economy.”
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