Sunday, January 31, 2021

Russian Population Falls by 510,000 in 2020 and Not Just Because of Pandemic

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 30 – Rosstat reports that the population of the Russian Federation fell by an estimated 510,000, the largest number in many years and one that some are inclined to blame entirely on the pandemic. But demographer Vladimir Kozlov says that excess deaths in 2020 compared to a year earlier explain less than half of this figure.

            Based on the state statistical agency’s report through November the total number of excess deaths last year exceeded 220,000, the Higher School of Economics scholar says. “how many of these died directly from covid is not the main issue” in his opinion (

            The entire “complex situation” is far more important: “During a pandemic people die not only directly from the virus but also from the overloading of the healthcare system and other factors.” But other developments have been at work as well, including the outflow of migrant workers who have not returned and the aging of the population.

            Important too is the aging of the Russian population. On the one hand, as that figure increases, more people will die; and on the other, the share of women in prime child-bearing age cohorts declines and with that decline there is a fall in the number of newborns. For the first 11 months of 2020, there were approximately 60,000 fewer than a year earlier, Kozlov says.

            Government programs have limited this decline, he continues; but “it would be much more effective to support the birth of third children” in families rather than give money to all who have any. Studies show that decisions to have a second or third child are driven far more often by economic factors than other things.

            As the pandemic has exacerbated Russia’s economic crisis, many people are deciding not to have children or to put off doing so because of uncertainties about the future. Until some of those concerns are alleviated, the number of births may fall still further, despite what the authorities are doing.

            Asked about the impact of the annexation of Crimea, Kozlov points out that it gave the Russian Federation a one-time increase in population but that the basic demographic parameters of the Ukrainian peninsula are roughly the same as those in the Russian Federation as a whole and thus will not affect the general trends.

            The Moscow demographer concludes that “the number of the population will continue to decline if we do not sharply change migration rules and do not begin to attract a greater number of people from other countries.” Doing so is the only way to boost the population given the current trends within the indigenous Russian population.

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