In 2050, Russia will be inhabited by at most 98 million people, down from today’s 142 million. Moreover, every third Russian will be older than 60. These are the UN stats announced recently by the Russian Demographic Research Institute. So is the future really that bleak? Does Russia have any hope?
Population is dropping (less) slowly
In the past 15 years, Russia’s population decreased by 6 million people — roughly the number of inhabitants in the two populous regions Chelyabinsk and Kemerovsk. Some years Russia lost 600,000-700,000, or almost the whole population of a regional capital.
But has Russia seen the light at the end of the tunnel? In 2007, the population decreased by only 237,000, or 2-3 times less than prior years. Why? Because of a demographic boom. Russians gave birth to 1.6 million babies, or 122,000 more than in 2006. The death rate also dropped, as fewer Russians die from heart disease and alcohol poisoning. There are also fewer murders and suicides.
Migrants will save us
Yep. The awful stats leave little room for hope. Russia’s baby boom may have helped a bit, but far less than the increasing wave of migrants. New immigration laws led to 287,000 migrants arriving to Russia in 2007, or 1.5 times more than in 2006. These Uzbeks, Tajiks and Azeris are working to pump up Russia’s population. But the number of Russians is continuing to decrease, especially in the Far East, eastern Siberia and northwest.
Not long ago, Saint Petersburg’s North-West Strategic Development Center announced their demographic prognosis for 2025. The projections are shocking. The number of residents in the Kaliningrad region, which is relatively financially secure, will decrease 10 percent. The population of Russia’s northern capital Saint Petersburg will decrease 30 percent. The population of the Murmansk region will also drop to half the 1990 figure.
Demographic scientists say that Russia’s ethnic makeup will continue to change steadily. The country’s highest birth rates are in Chechnya, Ingushetiya and Dagestan. And there are more migrants to Russia each year. In 2007, nearly one-third of the 101,000 babies born in Moscow were of Central Asian or Caucasus descent.
Could these migrants be a blessing for Russia? Even the world’s top power, the U.S., is a melting pot of migrants.
“The U.S. is a rich country and doesn’t let everyone in. So primarily highly qualified specialists are allowed to emigrate,” said Anatoliy Antonov, deputy chair of Family Sociology and Demographics at Moscow State University’s Sociology Faculty. “But the least qualified individuals from the most poorly developing countries migrate to Russia.”
These are the people who are forming the new Russia. In the best-case scenario they are the leaders of the “Our Russia” movement. In the worst-case scenario they are simply criminals. Take Moscow for example. The capital is rife with almost a dozen ethnic criminal groups.
Baby boom about to bust
“Today the populous generation of the mid- and late-1980s has started to reproducing,” said Oksana Kuchmaeva, deputy laboratory head of Family Policy Issues at the Family and Upbringing Institute. “The birth rate sharply increased in the period following the anti-alcohol order.”
In the next 3-4 years, demographic scientists say, the birth rate will continue to increase.
“But soon the generation that was born in the new Russia, and not the Soviet Union, in the 1990s, will get married,” said Valeriy Elizarov, director of the Center for Population Issues Studies at Moscow State University’s Economic Faculty. “And it’s a small generation! This means that there will be fewer marriages and children. Even now I’ll refrain to comment on the increased birth rate. We’ve really only mined another demographic pit. Our demographic crisis is continuing.”
Here’s one comparison. In 1989, 2.1 million babies were born in Russia. After the economic crisis in 1999, only 1.2 million babies were born. By 2020, this “crisis generation” will hit the stage and deal another blow to the birth rate as the number of potential mothers and fathers is few. The demographic boom will be replaced by a lull as in the 1990s.
So maybe the new generation will give birth more? What if they have not one, but two or three children?
There is little hope for that unfortunately…
The family is gone
Today 65 percent of Russian families have only one child. Sociologists report that only one-third of them want a second child. Twenty-eight percent of families have two or more children and only 7 percent of them want a third. Today, the average Russian woman gives birth to 1.3 children during her lifetime. But this number must increase to 2.2 to keep the population from dying out. Sadly, sociologists say that Russia has assumed Europe’s tradition of having too few children. Life’s priorities are career, buying an apartment and car and then children. Materialism, to say the least.
“Modern-day youth wait for a stable career and home and only then begin to finely plan a child. It’s the Western way,” said renowned author Mariya Arbatova. “But these children start developing from the get-go and receive the very best. Today’s children, even in young families, undoubtedly have a better quality life than in the Soviet Union.”
Aha, so that is the trick, then?! Dialectics. The rule of quality as opposed to quantity. In Europe, people live much better than in China. But Europe is dying and Russia is following closely behind. Russia is simply having too few children.
“The family lifestyle is disappearing,” said Antonov. “Russia’s families are more like families in Sweden. Only 40 percent of all couples living together register their marriages. Of course those families cannot have many children.”
The fewer we are, the more we have?
Maybe there is a positive side to Russia’s decreasing population? Maybe the fewer we are, the more we will have? Maybe it is better for the remaining 90 million Russians to live well, than 200 million to live poorly.
“We won’t be able to live that well,” said Professor Nataliya Rimashevskaya, an advisor to the director of the Institute of Socio-Economic Problems of the Population at the Russian Academy of Sciences. “A nation’s population is its strength. Why are the Indians continuing to grow in number even though they are already over one billion? To protect themselves from their neighbors. We mustn’t fall in number either.”
The population density in Russia is 1.2 people per square meters. In China, there are 124 people. Even today, Russia’s southeastern neighbors are actively moving into Siberia and the Far East. They are trading, cutting down the forests and getting involved in agricultural activity. So what will happen when Siberia is completely devoid of inhabitants? There is no such thing as emptiness in the wilderness.
The aging population is also a burden, said Rimashevskaya. By 2050, Russia will have one-two retirees for every working individual. They need to be fed and cared after and receive pensions paid for by able-bodied citizens. So will we only work to feed our fathers?
“The situation is quite complex,” said Rimashevskaya, “but we can prepare for what’s coming. In the West, the number of retirees is already higher than in Russia. But regardless everyone is happy. We need to increase labor productivity and we’ll have enough for everyone. And we’ll be able to raise the birth rate. First we need to increase our standard of living, and also propagandize the value of the family, so youth don’t only think about having material possessions and careers. Second we need to feed pregnant women. Today, 40 percent suffer from anemia and give birth to sick children.” READ MORE