Monday, December 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russia has a 10-Year Window to Prevent Demographic Collapse, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 23 – Unless the Russian government takes effective measures over the next decade to raise birthrates and cut super-high death rates, two Moscow experts say, the country will see a catastrophic decline not only in its overall population but even more among those of working age.

            Darya Khalturina and Yevgenya Yuryeva of the Institute of Scientific-Societal Expertise say that the authorities must act now because they have less than a decade to prevent Russia from going into a demographic tailspin in which its total population would fall by a third and the fraction of that population capable of working by more than that (

            Because there have been improvements in both birthrates and death rates over the last several years, they say, many assume that Russia’s demographic problems are behind it. But there are two reasons why that is not the case:

On the one hand, over the next ten years, the number of women in the prime child-bearing age group will fall by 50 percent because of low birthrates in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Consequently, even if the birth rate remained where it is today, the number of children would decline.

And on the other, while it has indeed fallen somewhat in recent years, the level of male mortality in Russia remains “extremely high by international measures.” That is reflected in the fact that Russian men live on average 12 years less than Russian women do and that Russia’s mortality rate is higher than in places like Mali, Burundi, and Cameroun.

Some Russian officials are placing their hopes in immigration as a solution to this demographic problem, but their hopes are misplaced. Most of the countries which currently provide migrant labor to Russia are suffering from their own demographic decline and soon will not have the numbers of young men to send to Russia.

“If the most immediate and serious measures for the complete liquidation of Russian super-high mortality and the increase in the birthrate are not taken, Russia will face a colossal reduction in the working age population” in the coming decades, with the number in that category falling by “more than 26 million by 2050.”

To increase the birthrate up to replacement levels – about 2.1 children per woman – will require more subsidies, more housing, more daycare, and more flexibility in the workplace, the two say. To cut super-high male mortality in turn will require better medical care and anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco efforts.

According to the researchers, Russia has a greater chance to improve its birthrate than do many European countries and will be able to do so without spending nearly as much money. But it almost certainly will have to spend more than it does now. Moscow spends about 1.5 percent of GDP on family policy while European countries are spending three to four percent.

The two Moscow researchers say that changing gender roles will also help. “In countries where gender equality exists,” they write, “women are in parliament and concern about motherhood is greater.” As a result, there are more kindergartens, grants and better conditions of work for women.”

But however much Moscow does to improve the demographic situation of its indigenous population, they continue, it will have to rely for some time on migration both within the country and from nearby countries.  Russia will need approximately 300,000 immigrant workers every year through 025. “Otherwise it will be impossible” to prevent population decline.

At the same time, they say, Moscow must work to reduce emigration from Russia by increasing pay, improving the investment climate, making the country more business-friendly, reducing corruption, and giving people greater opportunities for productive and rewarding employment.

Khalturina and Yuryeva warn that these steps must be taken now: “ten years from today will be too late.”  What they don’t say and what may be the saddest aspect of this situation is that almost all of the measures they propose are at odds with the policies President Vladimir Putin and his regime appear committed to.

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