Friday, April 17, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Depopulation Threatens Russia 10 Ways, Moscow Demographer Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 17 – Russia’s population will continue to decline over the coming decades, threatening first some regions and then the country as a whole with depopulation, a trend whose consequences are both more immediate and more widespread than many now assume, according to a leading Moscow demographer.
In an article entitled “The Social Consequences of the Depopulation of Russia,” Olga Lebed of Moscow State University argues that “the demographic situation which has arisen in Russia over the course of recent decades has achieved such a critical point that it is impossible not to pay attention to it” (
At present, even with immigration, the population of the Russian Federation is declining by almost a million people a year, she writes, and consequently it is time to pay close attention not just to the overall figure but to the specific consequences of the depopulation of the country. Lebed points to what she says are the ten most important consequences of this trend.
First, along with the overall decline, differences in birthrates and survival rates among the indigenous ethnic groups of the country and among immigrant populations mean that depopulation will be accompanied by “a change in the nationality composition of Russia,” with the titular nationality forming an ever smaller share.
Second, depopulation will threaten the foundations of the preservation of “the self-consciousness” of the titular nationality and entail “the loss of national traditions,” especially if as seems likely the majority nationality by the middle of this century will be a nation other than the Russians.
Third, she writes, depopulation will threaten the ability of the country to maintain its territorial integrity and the well-being of the population. Already Russia is one of the least densely populated countries on earth, and it will soon lack the numbers of people needed to hold its current borders if they are challenged within or without.
Fourth, the country will face an increasing shortage of workers, a trend that will make it ever more difficult for the population to maintain its standard of living and force the government to withdraw from support of the kind of projects that could reverse this and other dangerous demographic developments.
Fifth, depopulation will mean, assuming that it is combined with an aging population, that every remaining worker will have to carry a greater burden in order to support the non-working segment of the population. Besides sparking inter-generational tensions, that will depress the standard of living of most residents, with all the political consequences thereof.
Sixth, the depopulation of Russia is likely to be accompanied by a further exacerbation of the gender imbalance within the population. Not only will that make it more difficult for Russian firms to find men to do certain jobs, but it will mean many women will find it difficult to find husbands. Both trends will force changes in gender roles, some welcome, some not.
Seventh, current depopulation trends increase the likelihood that ever more parents will outlive their children, something that will entail not only economic consequences but social and political ones that many believe will contribute to the atomization of society and any number of other problems as well.
Eighth, that in turn will lead, Lebed says, to “the replacement of family relations by social ones,” with the family becoming ever less important as a socializing factor and other groups and institutions rather more. While that trend is already in evidence, she argues, depopulation will make it far more severe.
Ninth, she continues, the problems of socialization brought on by depopulation will lead to more mental illness, more anti-social behavior, and the need for more institutions to cope with societal breakdown, including but not limited to crisis intervention centers, more psychologists and psychiatrists, and so on.
. And tenth, she concludes, the depopulation of Russia is likely to produce a variety of demands, not now in evidence, to engage in such population-boosting but at present “fantastic” measures as state-supported “incubator” children, “hybridization of embryos,” cloning, and greater efforts to extent life spans and working lives.
Not all experts would agree with Lebed on this list, but many do – she cites numerous authorities in her 3,000-word article – and consequently, her list is useful as a way of going beyond the crude numbers concerning the decline in the population of the Russian Federation which is happening now and will accelerate to the consequences of that decline for all concerned.

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