January 7, 2020 Special Dispatch No. 8472

Russia's Collapsing Birthrate – It Is The Economy, Stupid

January 7, 2020
Russia | Special Dispatch No. 8472

Rosbalt journalist Aleksander Zhelenin explores Russia's demographic problem as seen in the collapsing birthrate in an article titled "Into what hole did Russia get into". Russia's leadership is aware of the problem, and Putin promised last month to perfect measures to support the birthrate.[1] The authorities disclaim any responsibility for the problem but claim it is a legacy of the past. First the tremendous losses of World War II and second the traumatic years following the collapse of Communism were responsible for producing a smaller number of child-bearers. Citing statistical data, Zhelenin shows that this explanation is too convenient, and a definite correlation exists between poor economic conditions and Russia's demographic decline.

Below is an abbreviated version of Zhelenin's article:[2]

Aleksander Zhelenin (Source:

According to the forecasts of the Rosbalt news agency made half a year ago, the natural population decline in Russia by the end of 2019 will most likely exceed the mark of 300 thousand persons. According to the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat), for the first ten months of 2019, the population decline consisted of nearly 260 thousand people, while for the whole of 2018, the number was - 224.5 thousand people. Data for 2017 reveals that the Russian Federation had a decrease in population of 134.4 thousand people, while in 2016 the decline was only 2.2 thousand people.

“[...] According to Rosstat, the figures for the population decline in Russian Federation that are available to us now are mainly due to the steep decline in the birth rate over the past four years.

So, in 2016, the birth rate decreased by almost by 52 thousand infants as compared to 2015. In 2017, the decrease was 198 thousand, and in 2018 in Russia 85 thousand less were born than in the previous year. For ten months of 2019, 102 thousand fewer children were born than in the same period last year.

"In general, for the entire 2019, we can expect approximately the same level of fertility decline as in the previous year - around 80-85 thousand people. In other words, it was not the birth rate that stabilized, but the pace of its decline.”

Rosstat data also show a worsening mortality rate. “[...]. Over the past six years, living standards in the Russian Federation have continued to decline, including declining incomes for citizens, and deteriorating medical services due to the closure and merger of hospitals and clinics, dismissals of doctors, paramedics and nurses; while mortality rates, in contrast, have grown. And now according to the most recent corrected data of Rosstat, we observe that the current mortality statistics have gotten even worse. In 2018, mortality in Russia compared with 2017, as it turned out, did not contract by 6.6 thousand, but instead grew by 4.5 thousand people.

"Many experts note that migration, which compensated for Russia's human losses for more than two decades, now provides increasingly less hope. In 2018, the Russian Federation had the lowest migration growth since 2005. 565,685 people entered the country from foreign countries, and 440,831 went back. So, the growth from migration amounted to only 124854 people - this is the lowest figure for the last 13 years. Thus, the natural decline, which, I remind you, for the same year of 2018 amounted to 224,566 people in Russia, was only half compensated by migration. [...]”.

“This is how the press secretary of the President of the Russian Federation Dmitry Peskov explained to the journalists the reasons for the current country's population decline: 'Indeed, the demographic hole, which has been repeatedly explained by the president and all our leaders in the social field, is now at its apogee. The situation, of course, is very unpleasant in this regard. Two demographic holes converged into one. "According to Peskov, the current demographic crisis is "the legacy of the past decades of our country's shoulders, which we now carry on our shoulders." [...]

"The first 'hole' probably means a sharp decline in the population as a result of the Great Patriotic War, and the second 'hole' was created during the economic crisis of the early 1990s. Let's see if this corresponds to the real birth rate figures or not.

"In the mid-1980s, a small generation of those born in the mid-1960s from an even smaller wartime and post-war generation reached child-bearing age in Russia. However, precisely in the mid-eighties we observe an increase in the birth rate in the Russian Federation. According to the statistical yearbook 'The National Economy of the USSR' for the corresponding years, in 1984, 2.409 million babies were born, in 1985 - 2.375 million, in 1986 - almost 2.486 million, in 1987 - 2.499 million.

"But in the early nineties, not only did a recession began, but a true collapse of the birth rate, which (of course, by pure chance) coincided with the reforms carried out at that time. According to the results of 1992 (the first year of reforms), 912 thousand (almost a million!) less infants were born than five years previously:1,587 million compared to 2.499 million in 1987. In 1993, [there were] even less - 1.378 million. And so (with slight fluctuations) the birth rate went down until it reached the lowest point in 1999, when only 1.214 million children were born. [...].

Fertility figures clearly indicate that by the mid-1980s, the demographic wounds received by the country as a result of World War II were unmistakably healed, and the collapse in the birth rate in the 1990s and 2000s was due to entirely different - socio-economic - reasons.

"If we look at the statistics on the second 'hole' - the beginning of the nineties, we will see that [Peskov's] theory doesn't work here as well. Indeed, as we saw, in the early 1990s, fertility dropped sharply. Accordingly, in twenty years (a generational step), we should theoretically expect another failure of the birth rate. However, while true, it was no completely the case.

According to the Federal State Statistics Service in 2011 1.796 million babies were born in Russia, by the end of 2012 the number of newborn babies was already 1.902 million, in 2013 - 1.895 million, and in 2014 - 1.942 million. That [increase in the birth rate] happened rather than a 'hole', which, in theory, should have arrived in the early 2010s. Instead, we see either slight fluctuations or even a slight increase in the birth rate. And only at the end of 2016, another collapse begins, which was mentioned at the beginning of this article.

"What is noteworthy, is that this collapse, as in the early nineties, again (and again only by accident!) coincided with a decline in the Russian citizens' standard of living and incomes (and with the inevitable, as back then, rise of a feeling of hopelessness and futility). The psychological factor in demography remains in force. And this, in turn, derives from the socio-economic one. And here, we are definitely in a 'hole'."



[1], December 13, 2019.

[2], December 31, 2019.

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