Monday, December 24, 2012

Demographic Decline in Russia

Walter Russell Mead discusses demographic decline in Russia, writing, in part:
In 2012, births outnumbered deaths in Russia from January through September — the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union that this has happened. Putin would like to claim this as a long term trend that could reverse Russia’s geopolitical slide, but there are two reasons for doubting that the baby boomlet means what he says it does.

The first is numbers: demographers note that the increase in Russian births this year reflects the coming of age of the relatively large generation of Russian millennials. These children of the optimistic perestroika years are now having children. Russia had something of a baby boom in those joyous and optimistic late Soviet days when the doors to a better life seemed to be opening wide. As the privations, lawlessness and social collapse of the ensuing era appeared, Russian women cut back on child bearing and once the echo of the perestroika baby boom fades away, Russia is looking at decades of shrinking numbers of women of child bearing years. The demographic good news is a blip, not a trend.

Much worse from President Putin’s point of view, one suspects, is the question — not addressed in the FT article or mentioned much in polite company in Russia — of just who is having babies in Russia today. Anecdotal evidence suggests strongly that the ethnic Russians are still dying out and that they are having many fewer children proportionately than the many non-Russian nationalities on the territory of the Federation. Muslim nationalities, in particular, may have substantially higher birthrates than Russian speaking Slavs.

Putin has to know this is true, and has to know something of what it means. Indeed, last week he announced proposals for additional incentives to promote more childbirth in fifty geographical areas in Russia where birth rates are particularly low. We suspect that the demographics of many of those districts look more like ‘Old Russia’ than like the multi-ethnic, multi-religious society growing up on the territory once held by the czars. While sounding bullish on Russian demography, Putin is also facing up to the (for him) grim fact that ethnic Russians continue to lose ground in what remains of the country.

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