Saturday, 22 January 2011
Russia's disappearing population
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has undergone a demographic catastrophe. Fertility rates have declined, the death rate has increased, and the population has shrunk in absolute terms.
During the last decade of the 20th century, Russians almost stopped having children. Before 1990, Russian women had on average 1.9 children. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, fertility crashed, hitting a low point of 1.2 in 1999. Since then, fertility has recovered slightly. In 2009, it was 1.54. However, it is still lower than the rate required to stabilise the population - 2.1 children per woman.
The demise of the Soviet Union was the trigger for this extraordinary decline in fertility. As living standards worsened, many women postponed child-rearing. The comprehensive childcare system - once a key pillar of the soviet labour market - disintegrated in the new market economy. Previously, it played a central role in maintaining both high levels of female labour force participation and a relatively high fertility rate.
The post-soviet collapse also provoked profound social changes. Before 1990, marriage was still the norm. Although divorce was common, a majority of women were likely to stay with their husbands through their child-rearing years. On the whole, this tended to increase the number of children born per woman. Since 1990, only a third of Russian women remain married during their child rearing years.
Parallel with this development, cohabitation has also increased. Around half of all Russian women have lived with a partner by the time they reach middle age. Such relationships tend to be more transient. Women in these relationships have fewer children, bringing average fertility rates down.
Russia has also experienced a general decline in health conditions and health care. Russians suffer from unusually high levels of cardiovascular diseases. Other diseases, such as Tuberculosis have made a comeback.
This, coupled with rampant alcoholism, has dramatically increased the death rate, especially for men. On average, Russian men live ten years less than women. It has also affected female fertility, since there are fewer men around. Ultimately, Russia’s female fertility crisis is inextricably linked to its male mortality crisis
These developments mirror the dysfunctional nature of modern Russian society. Rising income inequality, rampant corruption, and widespread criminality has pushed the country into deep despair.
On a fundamental level, any society that can not reproduce itself will perish. Perhaps, Russia will reverse recent demographic trends, but it can only achieve this if it re-establishes a higher fertility rate. Procreation is a commitment to the future. It is an act of hope. Russians must again feel confident enough to have children.