Russian President Vladimir Putin recently directed his nation’s parliament to develop a plan to reduce the country’s falling birthrate. In a speech to parliament on May 10, 2006, Putin called the problem of Russia’s dramatically declining population, “The most acute problem of contemporary Russia.”
The president called on parliament to provide incentives for couples to have a second child to increase the birth rate in order to stop the country’s plummeting population.
Russia’s population peaked in the early 1990s (at the time of the end of the Soviet Union) with about 148 million people in the country. Today, Russia’s population is approximately 143 million. The United States Census Bureau estimates that Russia’s population will decline from the current 143 million to a mere 111 million by 2050, a loss of more than 30 million people and a decrease of more than 20%.
The primary causes of Russia’s population decrease and loss of about 700,000 to 800,000 citizens each year are a high death rate, low birth rate, high rate of abortions, and a low level of immigration.
High Death Rate
Russia has a very high death rate of 15 deaths per 1000 people per year. This is far higher than the world’s average death rate of just under 9. The death rate in the U.S. is 8 per 1000 and for the United Kingdom it’s 10 per 1000. Alcohol-related deaths in Russia are very high and alcohol-related emergencies represent the bulk of emergency room visits in the country.
With this high death rate, Russian life expectancy is low – the World Health Organization estimates the life expectancy of Russian men at 59 years while women’s life expectancy is considerably better at 72 years. This difference is primarily a result of high rates of alcoholism among males.
Low Birth Rate
Understandably, due these high rates of alcoholism and economic hardship, women feel less than encouraged to have children in Russia.
Russia’s total fertility rate is low at 1.3 births per woman. This number represents the number of children each Russian woman has during her lifetime. A replacement total fertility rate to maintain a stable population is 2.1 births per woman. Obviously, with such a low total fertility rate Russian women are contributing to a declining population.
During the Soviet era, abortion was quite common and was utilized as a method of birth control. That technique remains common and quite popular today, keeping the country’s birth rate exceptionally low. According to a Russian news source, there are more abortions than births in Russia.
The online news source mosnews.com reported that in 2004 1.6 million women had abortions in Russia while 1.5 million gave birth. In 2003, the BBC reported that Russia had, “13 terminations for every 10 live births.”
Additionally, immigration into Russia is low – immigrants are primarily a trickle of ethnic Russians moving out of former republics (but now independent countries) of the Soviet Union.
Brain drain and emigration from Russia to Western Europe and other parts of the world is high as native Russians seek to better their economic situation.
Putin himself explored the issues surrounding the low birth rate during his speech, asking “What has prevented a young family, a young woman, from making this decision?
The answers are obvious: low incomes, a lack of normal housing, doubts about the level of medical services and quality education. At times, there are doubts about the ability to provide enough food.”