Like a movie franchise in search of more money but not wanting to think up a new idea, I thought I’d return to the topic of Monday’s post and “reboot” it. Not because I’m after more money (but feel free to send me some – my wife is having a baby and they aren’t cheap apparently) but because the blogpost suggesting that Russia was in demographic doodoo and going the way of the Dodo received some fairly vigorous comments in response. Now, vigorous comments are what we hope to achieve at Mercatornet and so my reply to those comments in this post should not be taken as an attack on anyone. In fact, a lot of what was said in response to the last post was helpful and so once again I take this opportunity to thank all of our dear readers (not “Dear Leaders”, ronery or otherwise).

Monday’s post is here, and it linked to a review article by a Russian Master of International Affairs Candidate at Columbia University, Alina Smyslova. In it, she lamented Russia’s woeful health statistics and forecast dire straits for her motherland (economically and militarily) unless something radical changed in the future.  Now, the parts of the article that I focussed on were the health aspects, I had already chronicled the “Dying” part before in reviewing an article by Nicholas Eberstadt and so was more interested in the “Sick” part of “Sick and Dying”.

However, it seems that the picture I (and Smyslova) painted was far too bleak and not up to date with recent happenings in Russia. (I would like to point out that to accuse either of us of Russophobia is frankly ludicrous. Smyslova is Russian and the pain she felt in relating Russia’s woes is as I said on Monday, “almost palpable”. I am not Russian, but I do not sit here cackling with glee as I report on bleak demographic data. The Cold War is over. Although, today’s NZHerald cartoon doesn’t think so!)  The reason that the picture painted was too bleak is that recent trends show that Russia’s birthrate is on the rise and that her population is actually growing. This is true – Russia’s demographic picture is much brighter than it was even three or four years ago, and thus some of the information in my last post was in fact wrong and out of date. I apologise for that – mea culpa. As my namesake, Marcus Svedberg notes,

“Life expectancy is still not great in Russia but has increased from the record low noted in the early 00s. It has on average increased by 5 years to 63 for men and 75 for women…The Russian population is still shrinking but the rate of decline has decelerated from more than 0.5% per year to around 0.1%. The reason is more births and that Russians are living longer. The Russian population actually grew by 100 000 people in 2011 with the difference being made up of official net (labour) immigration.”

Thus, he concludes, Russia is pointing in the right direction, but it is not yet over its demographic challenge.  Now, the picture isn’t rosy, according to Wiki (H/T Eric) there were around 57,000 more deaths than births in the first 6 months of 2012. So to grow, or to stay at the same population level, Russia must rely on immigration. Nicholas Eberstadt has noted the challenges facing Russia in attracting immigrants on a sustained, large scale. However, there is little doubt that the birth rate of Russia is increasing. This is good, and again something that we’ve mentioned before. In fact, Smyslova herself mentions this recent upsurge in her article but doubts the likelihood of it continuing especially if parents feel unable to support the family.  Her comments about the dangers of a falling population still stand, even if Russia’s birthrate has increased recently. Furthermore, we noted in the Eberstadt piece that:

“The Kremlin is…trying to reverse this trend by introducing new public policies, including subsidies for mothers who have a second or third child.  Although these measures seem to have had some effect – birth rates have recently risen while death rates have decreased – there are some unavoidable features of Russia’s demographic future that will have to be overcome.  The first is that the recent birth slump has meant that there will be fewer potential mothers in the next few years:

‘Women between 20 and 29 years of age bear nearly two-thirds of Russia’s babies.  In 2025, Russia is projected to have just 6.4 million women in their 20s, 45 percent fewer than today…[u]nder such circumstance, simply maintaining current national birth totals would require heroic upsurges in maternity.’

Added to this, Russia is getting older. By 2025, the proportion of the Russian population aged 65 years and older will have grown from 13 percent to almost 19 percent.  Thus, ‘[a]s a result of ageing alone, per capita mortality in Russia would rise by more than 20 per cent if nothing else changed.’

Taking all of this into account, ‘Russia is likely to remain a net mortality society for the foreseeable future’.”

As one can see from the Russian population pyramid, “waves” in the Russian population are not unheard of. But if the number of births continue to be outweighed by the number of deaths then each succeeding wave at high tide will reach a lower part of the foreshore than its predecessor.

Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps Russia has turned a corner from the mess of the 1990s USSR breakup and structural change in its demography will occur. Perhaps its population will stabilise and we are being too pessimistic. But I cannot see signs for unbridled optimism either.

Reboot over…until next time…?

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...