Staunton, May 29 – Even if the recent much-ballyhooed rise in Russian fertility rate were to last and that is almost certainly impossible, a Moscow State University demographer says, the population of the country would decline by half over the next 50 years. In fact, it is likely to decline further and faster than that.
In an interview posted by Stoletiye.ru yesterday, Anatoly Antonov notes that fertility rates in Russia stood at 1.2 children per woman in 1992, rose to 1.4 in 2007-2008, and now stand at “approximately 1.6.” That has given rise to much optimism, but that optimism is misplaced.
On the one hand, he points out, if the current level were to be maintained, that would mean that the country’s population would be only half the size it is now in half a century. And on the other, if it falls back toward a level of 1.1 as current trends suggest, that halving of the country’s population will take only 25 years.
What makes these conclusions worth noting is that they come from a scholar who has long been identified as a Russian nationalist rather than from researchers who are more liberal and are often dismissed because of it and that Antonov’s words appear on a portal directed at Russian nationalists rather than the academic community.
They are thus far more likely to spark new debates about what Moscow should do and also about the limits of state policy in this sphere both immediately and over the longer term and become part of the Russian nationalist indictment of Vladimir Putin, an attack that many commentators thought the Kremlin would not have to face from that direction.
Antonov points out that the current uptick is the echo of the rise in birthrates at the end of Soviet times which has led to a larger number of women in the prime childbearing ages now. That increase in the size of this cohort relative to all Russian women rather than the introduction by Putin of “maternal capital” incentives is responsible for the increase.
And because the number of women in that age cohort is set to fall by 50 percent over the next decade, from approximately 14 million to seven million, the Russian fertility rate, a statistical artifact of the age structure of the population, is going to fall as well, unless something totally unexpected happens, Antonov says.
That trend is being exacerbated by the declining quality and availability of health care in the Russian Federation in the Putin years and by the government’s unwillingness to invest funds in this sector or in increasing family incentives to European levels, which would require a 1000 percent increase in such spending.
It will be still worse, he adds, because Russia women who will be entering the prime childbearing cohort are even less disposed to have two children than are those in it now, a reflection of the different expectations about family size the two groups received from their parents.
The size of the Russian population is also going to be affected by continuing and in some areas rising rates of adult male morbidity and mortality, he says. No one in the 1980s would have predicted that male life expectancy at birth among Russians would fall to 58 years or that it would not quickly rebound. There has been some improvement but not enough.
Antonov said that he personally believes that “people who understand that the fate of the state depends on demography will come to power by 2025-2030.” That successor government will have its work cut out for it because if Russia can’t at least maintain its current population, “the Russian state will collapse.”
That regime, he continues, will promote the image of larger families by promoting stay-at-home motherhood and raising the wages and salaries of men to a level that will allow them to support such families in comfortable homes. Some conservatives want one of these things but do not understand that both are required. Unless they do, Russia’s demographic future is bleak.