Staunton, July 8 – Unless Moscow addresses and overcomes “super-high mortality rates” among young people and working-age Russians, the country will face population decline even if the Russian government is able to boost fertility rates, according to Abel Aganbegyan, a member of the Academy of Sciences and a Kremlin advisor.
Indeed, the noted economist says, if Russia were able to reduce mortality rates in the coming years as much as those rates have fallen over the last seven, then anticipated declines in the number of births in the next two decades would not lead to the depopulation of Russia.
But for that happy outcome to occur, Aganbegyan says, Russians must recognize the seriousness of the problem before them, devote far more resources to the solution of demographic challenges, and recognize the real costs of not doing so by putting a price on human life.
In the current issue of Ekspert, the academician says that last year was a good one demographically for the Russian Federation in that the population grew by 24,000 people, the result of a 30 percent increase in the birthrate over the preceding seven years and a 20 percent decline in the deathrate over the same period.
But this one good year must not obscure the seriousness of Russia’s demographic problems. Already in 2014, “the number of the dying again has begun to exceed the number being born, and if this tendency continues, then depopulation will be renewed.”
Unfortunately, that is a real risk. The reduction in the number of births is connected in the first instance with declines in the number of women in prime child-bearing ages and secondarily with the decline in preferred family size among Russians. Changing this will require far larger investments than the Russian government has yet made, he says.
This challenge, Aganbegyan continues, should direct the attention of Russian policy makers to the possibility of reducing mortality rates and thus extending life expectancies. At present, he notes, “the level of mortality in Russia in comparison with other countries is catastrophically high, and life expectancy is extremely low.”
When age structures are standardized, mortality rates in Russia are 40 percent higher than they are in European countries. And Russian life expectancy is almost ten years younger and little different than it was in 1964-1965 in the Soviet Union. But “behind those unfortunate numbers are even worse ones, Aganbegyan says.
The worst is that in the Russian Federation, mortality rates are higher than in other countries among children and among those of working-age, especially men. Infant mortality is 2.3 times higher in Russia than in Europe, and working-age mortality is 3.5 times higher, with 80 percent of those being men.
Both of these depress overall life expectancy figures, Aganbegyan points out, and at present, Russia lags behind “all post-socialist countries except Albania” as well as behind many countries in the developing world.
There are many things that could be done to change that, the Moscow scholar continues: reducing alcohol consumption, improving medical services including putting doctors in ambulances, and promoting a healthier way of life generally through medical and other public institutions.
That will require not just a commitment and more money but a resolution of “one of the most principled issues in this sphere, the question of the value of a human life,” something Russia has not yet faced up to. Aganbegyan says his calculations show the death of a working-age Russian costs the economy six to eight million rubles (US $200,000 to $300,000).
When such losses are recognized, he says, the far more modest costs of improved medical care and a better way of life are put in context. Consequently, Aganbegyan argues that setting an official figure for the economic value of a human life is essential if Russia is to do what it has to reduce mortality rates and avoid depopulation.