Baku, March 4 – Even as Russian officials celebrate and Western media report a small uptick in the number of births in the Russian Federation, demographers in that country’s Academy of Sciences are predicting that life expectancy among Russian men will continue to fall over the next four decades, possibly to below 50 years from birth.
If these projections are correct – and they are based on internationally accepted models -- they mean that any demographic gains for the country from declines in infant mortality and from any increase in the birthrate will be more than wiped out, with all the economic, political and military consequences that entails.
And that in turn suggests that the Russian government will need to devote at least as much attention and resources to the far more intractable problem of male mortality as it is currently giving in its efforts to boost birthrates by providing new benefits to women and families who have more children.
In an article in the current issue of Demoscope Weekly, Yevgeny Andreyev says that current research suggests that in the best case, male life expectancy will fall another year or so by the middle of the century, with the possibility that it might decline as much as eight or nine years (http://demoscope.ru/weekly/2008/0321/tema03.php).
Such declines not only would wipe out most if not all of the benefits of the pro-natalist policies that Moscow is currently promoting but would also, because the incidence of male mortality is higher among ethnic Russians than most other groups, contribute to an even more rapid shift in the ethnic balance in the population.
Although Andreyev does not address the causes for this in this article, they are well-known: On the one hand, Russia has succeeded in reducing infant mortality and is likely to continue to do so. But on the other, Russian men because of high levels of alcohol consumption and health problems continue to die younger than other groups.
Noting that Russian demographers have good age and mortality data for the period 1956 to 2006, the Moscow scholar points out that mortality rates among Russian males under 15 have continued to decline but those among older Russian males have increased and appear likely to continue to do so over the next 40 years.
Drawing on this data set and using the ARIMA program of SPSS 15.0, he continues, Russian demographers predict that under the best of circumstances, life expectancy of Russian men will decline by a year or so over that period, while under less favorable ones, this figure could fall by as much as eight or nine years.
The likely figure – and he argues that there is a 95 percent probability that the it will fall between these two – will be a decline of three or four years, a development that would leave Russian men at mid-century with a life expectancy of just under 55, far lower than in any other developed country.
Indeed, even if that mid-range figure proves to be correct, the Russian Federation by mid-century would then rank in the bottom quarter of all countries in the world on this measure, a development that represents a clear indictment of a regime that is routinely described as awash with cash from the sale of oil and gas abroad.