Saturday, January 30, 2010

On Russia's brief population increase

Russia's demographic profile since the dissolution of the Soviet Union has been notoriously grim, with terrifically high mortality combining with terribly low birth rates to produce a rate of natural decrease that even considerable immigration couldn't compensate for. Until now.

Russia has registered the first population increase since the chaotic years which followed the fall of the Soviet Union, bucking a long-term decline that has dampened economic growth projections, officials said on Tuesday.

Russia's population increased by between 15,000 and 25,000 to more than 141.9 million in 2009, the first annual increase since 1995, Health Minister Tatyana Golikova told a meeting in the Kremlin with President Dmitry Medvedev.

The rise was helped by a 4 percent decline in mortality rates and an influx of immigrants, mostly from the former republics of the former Soviet Union, Golikova said.

"The difference between birth rates and mortality rates will be covered by a rise in migration," Golikova said in a televised Kremlin meeting, adding that Russia was trying to cut the number of abortions.

"Our abortion rates are comparable to birth rates," she said. Russia registered 1.7 million births in 2009 and 1.2 million abortions.

In addition, as the Population Reference Bureau's Carl Haub noted, births have risen even as mortality has fallen.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has long advocated a rise in Russia’s very low birth rate. In 2007, with his bidding, the government took the dramatic step of providing women with a $9,000 payment for the birth of a second child. The incentive certainly seems to have worked. In 2007, births jumped nearly 9 percent over 2006 and, in 2008, by 6.4 percent over 2007. Russia’s total fertility rate (TFR) now stands at 1.49 (2008), up from its nadir of 1.16 in 1999.

[. . .]

Official demographic data have been released by the state statistical bureau, GOSKOMSTAT, for January 2009 through November (Russia releases vital statistics very quickly). Those show an increase in births for the January-November 2009 period of 2.8 percent, lower than the previous two years but still an increase. At the same time, deaths dropped by 3.7 percent so that natural decrease, birth minus deaths, was “only” -224,310. I say only because that figure was an astounding -958,000 in 2000. So for population to grow in 2009, net international migration will have to offset that -224,310. That certainly seems to be well within reach since net immigration from January to October was reported as 210,446, much of it from Central Asia and other former Soviet republics which the Russians often refer to as the “near abroad.” Based on typical migration patterns in Russia in November and December, about 250,000 net immigration can be expected.

Russia has thus moved into the territory of countries like Germany, Spain, or Italy, where natural decrease in the native-born population is countered by immigration. This is a good thing.

Will this last? Almost certainly not. Leaving aside the possibility that the cash payments, instead of encouraging women to be mothers to more children, actually encouraged them to have the children they were planning on having early, the birth rate's increase is the product of the women born in the last two decades of the Soviet Union. As this 1996 RAND survey points out, well into the 1980s the population of the modern-day Russian Federation exhibited TFRs well in excess of western Europe, hovering around replacement. The fall of the Soviet Union led to a sharp fall in birth rates and this, noted in the St. Petersburg Times, has sharply reduced the numbers of potential mothers.

The number of children under 18 has fallen to 26.5 million now from 38 million in 1995 and 33.5 million in 2000, according to a new report by UNICEF and the State Statistics Service.

“For historical and demographic reasons, the child population in Russia decreased by approximately 12 million over the last 13 years. This is an average of 1 million each year,” said Bertrand Bainvel, UNICEF’s representative in Russia.

“This in itself poses important development challenges, and optimizing the investment in childhood makes it even more important and urgent for the country,” he told The St. Petersburg Times.

[. . .]

“There were a lot of babies born in the 1980s but few in the 1990s, and now we can see the result of the decline,” said Anatoly Vishnevsky, head of the Demography Institute at the Higher School of Economics.

“Later the birth rate started to increase, but not by much,” he added.

Since the number of children is now low, the birth rate will not be able to increase for the next two decades, he said.

“The number of children might increase, but not significantly,” Vishnevsky said, adding that there will not be enough women for reproduction.

The effect, Haub notes, is extreme.

Russia’s age-sex pyramid took a body blow during the period of high natural decrease. The number of young people moving up the age ladder into the prime childbearing ages is much less than those now in the childbearing years. As of January 1, 2009, there were 6.2 million females in the age group 20-24. The 15-19 age group was only 4.5 million and both the 5-9 and 10-14 age groups taken together totaled 6.5 million. As those younger age groups begin childbearing, births will certainly decline even if the TFR rises. Beyond that, deaths will rise as the elderly population grows significantly in size.

This drop has had a dramatic effect already, on the size of student populations for instance.

While the number of first graders rose from 1.25 million in 2007 to 1.39 million in 2009 — the first increase in 12 years in 2009 — the overall number of high school students almost halved from 20.6 million in 1998 to 13.3 million last year.

The number of high school graduates fell from 1.25 million in 1998 to 900,000 in 2009 and is expected to drop to 700,000 in 2012.

As a consequence, university student numbers are expected to drop from the current 7.5 million to 4 million in the 2012-13 school year.

There just aren't enough Russian women to compensate for this shortfall. Accordingly, Russia's population will soon resume its natural decrease, if at a gentler pace than in the bad days of old. If: There's no telling what migration would do to complicate matters. If Russia stopped attracting immigrants and instead became a major source of immigrants, things could change sharply for the worse.


john said...

Randy, it's a grim thought, but couldn't it be the case that Russia's horrid mortality rates give it a kind of advantage over other low-fertility countries (i.e. by keeping dependency ratios down)?

Unknown said...

Migration is not a solution in Russia. Ethnic tensions in big cities are already high. They will have to improve on what they got until now.

Anonymous said...

Russia has thus moved into the territory of countries like Germany, Spain, or Italy, where natural decrease in the native-born population is countered by immigration. This is a good thing.

Why is this a Good Thing?

I realize there are potential dangers flowing from a weakening, demographically waning Russia. But on the whole the country has been a force for instability and authoritarianism in international affairs. Over the long term, a "little Russia" is in the planet's interests. Moreover, I suspect that also, over the long term, a Russia whose population is gradually shrinking is a Russia where real wages and living standards are rising -- and I think ideally what we should all want to see is a smaller, richer Russia populated by wealthier people enjoying higher living standards. Wealthy people tend to be contented, and contented people tend to be less resentful, paranoid, and xenophobic.

Mark Arsenal said...

A couple observations:

Russia has the potential to attract far more immigrants than it currently does. The big 'if' is only whether it can create a social-legal atmosphere and economic prospects that make it a more attractive destination for migrants from East Asia (as opposed to Central Asia), where there is a larger migrant pool.

Geographically and geologically (in resource terms), Russia is very similar to Canada, so I see the two competing intensively for Asian talent in the coming century, provided Russia can wean itself off western finance (a primary cause of the past couple years' economic woes) and improve the rule of law and local-level security. Either way, I'm bullish on Russian immigration.

Just remember: by and large, immigrants begin to conform with local fertility rates after the first generation. So high levels of immigration are something that have to be maintained over the long-term.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...
<Over the long term, a "little Russia" is in the planet's interests.

Translation: We don't fucking care

CB said...

The migrant pool of East Asia will vanish in the next 10 years because of low fertility rates and rising incomes, it could be that the Chinese currently living abroad in Canada or elsewhere will return to China, as the chances are much bigger there. China has a much more pleasant climate and is safer and economically more free. For sure the emigration from China will cease in the next 10 years.

To make it clear: Russia has no other migration sources than central asia, the only solution is to rise fertility.

Unknown said...

Russians absolutely detest Central Asians and Caucasians. To absorb more of such immigration the government will have to clamp down really hard on nationalists who may soon start getting out of control. The low level tensions against this immigration are constant.

As to rising the fertility, this is what the government is doing. The overall demographic situation is not very good and the current surge may soon start running out of steam. In fact, leading Russian demographers seem to concur that the last government's measures had little impact on fertility as such, mostly on timing of births and the government seems to be largely unaware of it and unduly optimistic.

On the other hand, this is a very determined government that defined demography as its top priority. If the current measures stop being effective, Putin and co. are not going to philosophically contemplate the situation. The program will be expanded.

Randy McDonald said...

@ John: It does give Russia a certain advantage, yes, but the ill-health suffered by Russian men that triggers such high mortality will have consequences on the health of the workforce, to say nothing of non-material factors like morale.

@ Anonymous: It's a good thing compared to rapid, uncontrolled decline. With a shrinking and aging population, I'm not sure that Russia will be able to enjoy an economic miracle--already, its growth rates are projected to be lower than the other BRICs.

@ Mark: The potential for Russia to be a destination for immigrants outside of the former Soviet sphere does exist, yes. Will circumstances allow this to be realized? Russia's resource-extraction industries don't need that much human labour.

@ Cicerone: The income disparities between China and traditional receiving countries will remain, thus Chinese emigration will continue irrespective of the demographics of home. Ultra-low fertility hasn't done anything to discourage emigration from Romania or Ukraine.

@ Nobody: Altering the timing of births, agreed, isn't much of an achievement. How much the Russian government can intervene is open to question, I think; how much money can it send, how quickly can it remodel Russian family structures, et cetera.

Unknown said...

"Altering the timing of births, agreed, isn't much of an achievement. How much the Russian government can intervene is open to question, I think; how much money can it send, how quickly can it remodel Russian family structures, et cetera."

Well, we have talked about this on the previous thread. There is no ambiguity about this issue in Russia, Putin said this is the problem number one. As to what they can do, I don't know. Their methods are gross, they can be refined. Incidentally the birth rate seems to be rising despite the crisis. I heard that the same thing is happening in Ukraine which was hit by the crisis even harder. I have no explanation for this. Is Ukraine doing something about its demographics?

The Fall of the House of Usher said...

Birth numbers rose in 2009 from the 2008 levels in Poland, Bulgaria, and Ukraine.

I would incline to think that this means an increase in TFR in all three cases as opposed to being purely the result of age structures (almost certain that the TFR increased in Ukraine).

Mark Arsenal said...

@Randy: Resource-extraction industries may be low-labor, but you could say the same thing about Canada's. It's the economies they create around those industries that require new labor pools. Else Alberta wouldn't be sucking up so many immigrants, no?

Randy McDonald said...

@ Nobody, The Fall: The recuperation of postponed fertility is the dominant trend, I think, but judging by trends in Estonia and western Ukrainian there's also an interesting division between Russophone and non-Russophone areas, the former having significantly more negative demographics.

@ Mark: True, but the labour is drawn from within Canada. So far, Russia hasn't become a major destination for immigrants from outside the Soviet sphere, in part because it's relatively unattractive; China seems to be attracting Russian immigrants. The Russian economy may well not have enough opportunities for extra-Soviet immigrants.

Mark Arsenal said...

@Randy: "Russia hasn't become a major destination for immigrants from outside the Soviet sphere, in part because it's relatively unattractive"

True at the moment. But lots of stuff is about to conspire to change this. Demographics in China, peak energy, peak wealth in the US import market, energy geography, peak earning years for China's population, etc. I would MUCH rather be in Russia than China right now.

But to return to the Russia-Canada analogy: I really do see China being Russia's US, in the sense that it will be Russia's chief energy market, and a potential climate refuge as Russia becomes much more important to food supplies as fertile land travels north.

Dohsan said...

Er? How are the demographics of China worse than that of Russia?