Vienna, September 14 – Russian officials -- such as vice Prime Minister Dmitriy Medvedev – recently have suggested that an uptick in the number of births in the Russian Federation this summer is the product of their country’s economic recovery and President Vladimir Putin’s new pro-natalist policies.
But a leading Moscow demographer argues that neither of these factors is as significant as officials claim and that the small rise in the number of births reflects instead a temporary increase in the number of Russian women of child-bearing age (www.russ.ru/politics/interview/nam_nuzhna_preemstvennost_demograficheskoi_politiki).
Indeed, Anatoliy Vishnevskiy, the director of the Moscow Center for Demography and Human Ecology, told the “Russkiy zhurnal” internet portal this week, the growth in the number of women in this age group is “coming to an end and that in two years, it will fall and so too will the number of births.
That is because, Vishnevskiy continued, increasingly urban and educated Russian women just like their counterparts in Europe are choosing to have smaller and smaller families, a trend that he argued recent changes in Russia’s economic situation and demographic policies have done little to change.
Since 1999, the Moscow demographer notes, the number of women in the 18 to 29 age group have increased from 13.6 million to 15.2 million, the result of rising birthrates in the 1970s, but while there was a small increase in the fertility rate from 1999 to 2004, that critical measure has fallen off yet again over the last two years.
That makes the “record” month for babies – June of this year in which there were 142,000 live births – less impressive that officials say and certainly not totally the product of economic growth and government demographic policies alone, Vishnevskiy continues.
When the number of women in the 18 to 29 age cohort begins to fall in 2009, he added, the country will not be able to avoid “a sharp decline in the number of births” because fewer women are almost certain to be having fewer children each and thus collectively.
These problems with the number of women in this age group and their tendency to have fewer children are typical of European countries generally. Indeed, Vishnevskiy says, Russia ranks near the middle of those states in terms of fertility rates. But Russia’s “mortality rates do not have analogues in developed countries.”
These rates are, he says, not only unprecedented in modern societies but also “indecently high.”
“The absolute number of those dying has declined somewhat” in the last few years, Vishnevskiy acknowledges, but he says that “this by itself does not say anything.” The largest group of deaths – some 65 to 70 percent – occur among those 60 and over, and “the number of such people has been becoming smaller” in Russia.
That in turn reflects the fact that those entering this group beginning in the year 2000 were those born in 1941 or immediately after the war, “a numerically very small generation” indeed. As a result, Russia has “almost three million fewer elderly people than it did” seven years ago.
A more precise measure of mortality, he notes, is life expectancy. That has been falling precipitously in Russia in recent years, especially among men. But Vishnevskiy cautiously points out that it is not yet possible to say what has happened this year because figures won’t be available until December or even late.
But however that may be, he says, one should not yet be speaking about “a serious turning point” in Russia’s demographic situation, a change which “the country needs just like oxygen to breathe.”