Staunton, June 5 – Efforts to trace the demographic development of Uzbekistan, Central Asia’s largest country in terms of population, are limited by the fact that it is the only country in that region that has not conducted a census since Soviet times, although it now plans to hold one in 2023, Maksim Murakayev says.
In the latest installment of the Liberal Russia Foundation’s survey of the demographic situation in post-Soviet states concerning their transition to low birthrate, low deathrate countries, the Moscow analyst says the lack of a census makes any assessment problematic (liberal.ru/authors-projects/osnovnye-elementy-demograficheskoj-modernizaczii-uzbekistana).
Between 1955 and 1970, Uzbekistan experienced a demographic explosion as deathrates declined while birthrates remained as high as they had been when infant mortality was higher and the need to have more children to ensure more agricultural workers was greater given the likely deaths of so many of them.
Since the end of the 1970s, there has been significant outmigration; but despite that, the analyst continues, Uzbekistan’s natural rate of population has been more than sufficient to cover that and the population of the country, now at 34 million, is projected to rise to 40 million or more by mid-century.
Since the middle of the 20th century, infant mortality has declined by almost 90 percent, more than in all other Central Asian countries except for Kazakhstan, Murakayev says. And in part because of this, life expectancy in Uzbekistan has risen from 56 years in 1950-1955 to 71.5 years in 2015-2020.
The birthrate peaked in Uzbekistan in the early 1960s and has been declining since then. In the 1950s, the average Uzbek woman had 5.3 children. That figure has now declined to 2.4, still above replacement level but a significant step toward the completion of the demographic transition.
Tashkent needs to do more to complete the job, the analyst says. But it faces a great deal of cultural resistance given that families are a central part of Uzbek life. Even labor migration to Russia is explained in large measure because of the need to raise money for what are still lavish wedding ceremonies.
The situation is beginning to change, however. Young people are increasingly interested in acquiring higher educations and so putting off marriage. That should send the fertility rate down. The 2023 census should show how much progress really has been made.