Muscovite Couples Increasingly Childless by Choice, Study Finds

September 5, 2014
The increasing number of couples in Moscow that choose to remain childless could be an unwelcome precedent for Russia, a country that has been battling declining birth rate for decades. Photo:

Staunton, September 5 – Moscow and the Russia outside the ring road are divided in many ways, including some of the most fundamental. Today, most Muscovite couples without children have chosen that status, while most Russians living elsewhere do not have children because, for one reason or another, they can’t, according to a new study.

Svetlana Biryukova, a researcher at the Center for the Analysis of Incomes and Conditions of Life at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, says that only one Russian outside of Moscow in 20 (5.3 percent) says he or she is childless by choice while 17 percent of Muscovites make that declaration.

“The difference between Moscow and Russia is completely predictable,” Biryukova says. “The capital is always in the demographic avant garde. It sets the fashion for other agglomerations and gradually this trend is picked up by the remaining cities.” Consequently, the current Moscow trend to a “child-free” future is likely to spread as well.

Such a choice, she continues, not only is pushing down the birth rate but also is contributing to a situation in which a greater share of Russians over the age of 45 has no children. In 2002, 5.83 percent of that cohort had no children in Russia as a whole, and 8.96 percent of Muscovites were in that category. Now, the corresponding figures are 6.55 and 8.96.

Demographers around the world generally point to a growth in the level of education and economic independence among women as the main factors for this trend, but they also note that the age of first marriage, the stability and status of work, and the number of siblings in their own families also are explanatory factors.

Such factors naturally play a role in the Russian Federation as well, Biryukova says, but their relative impact is different in Moscow than in the rest of the country. In Russia beyond the ring road, age and the inability to have children play key roles, while in Moscow itself, education, the structure of the families of potential parents, and changing attitudes about marriage and the family are more important.

In sum, she says, “Muscovites have too many reasons not to give birth.” And that may help explain why Russians beyond the ring road say that parenting is necessary for “self-realization” while Muscovites who want children say that it is about their happiness – and thus more subject to choice.

If the Moscow pattern spreads to the rest of the country, Russia will see its birth rate decline still further, Biryukova notes, but she says it is “premature” to be worried that childlessness as a choice will spread, not only because it may be that many women even in Moscow will have children eventually at older ages but also because this choice may reflect current social problems.

It is entirely possible, she says in conclusion that this trend reflects the current public atmosphere in Moscow and Russia as a whole and that an “environment more friendly for children” could be created in the future.