World War II Continues to Have Demographic Impact on Russia, Vishnevsky Says

Battle of Stalingrad file photo

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, July 4, 2017)

The periodic increases and current decrease in the number of births in Russia reflects the third echo of World War II, Anatoly Vishnevsky says, with the low number of births in 1943 leading to demographic declines approximately every 25 years thereafter. The current decline is almost precisely 75 years – three such cycles – since that time.

And each fall is deeper and each rise smaller than its predecessor, the Higher School of Economics demographer says, because of the growing preference for smaller families, a trend that multiplies the effect of the rises and falls in the number of women in prime child-bearing cohorts (iz.ru/612611/elena-loriia/rost-rozhdaemosti-nachnetsia-cherez-15-let-i-prodolzhitsia-do-serediny-veka).

In an interview given to Izvestiya, Vishnevsky suggests that Russia’s “main demographic problem is not a low number of births but a high number of deaths,” something he says that health ministry figures “do not reflect,” in part because focusing on this is unwelcome and requires policy choices the regime doesn’t appear to want to make.

The government has set a goal of increasing life expectancy to 76 years from birth by 2025. “Whether we will achieve that or not, only time will tell,” the demographer says. But this figure isn’t especially ambitious: it is where Mexico is now and is far behind those in Western European countries. But they will have achieved increases over the next decade as well.

“A population’s life expectancy is not a secondary measure; it is one of the key indicators of the economic and social success of a country. If for decades it lags behind other countries and the gap even grows, that means that something is rotten in the state of Denmark” and that government priorities should be changed.

Now Russia has entered an unfavorable period: not only are the number of births falling because of a declining number of women in the prime child-bearing cohort and because of different preferences, but the number of deaths is going to rise because of the increasing number of elderly people who were born in the 1950s.

“Under these conditions, the maintenance of even the small natural growth of the population which appeared [in Russia] in 2013 is impossible,” Vishnevsky says. “More likely, in the near term, we will again be in a state of natural decline, as was the case for the previous 20 years from 1992 to 2012.”

The Moscow scholar notes that there are “two types of aging: aging ‘from below” reflecting a decline in the birthrate and aging ‘from above’ caused by a decline in mortality among older age groups. Everywhere everything begins with aging from below and then appears aging from above.”

Russia is still in the first group: Its population “is aging mostly from below, as a result of low birthrates, but mortality rates among older groups have not fallen much.” Over the last 50 years, mortality among Russian children under five have fallen 70 percent, while mortality among men 60-64 haven’t changed and among women in that cohort have fallen only 10 percent.

In short, “the growth in life expectancy among [Russians] has been achieved on account of children, and this to a small degree opposes aging since it has an effect equal to an increase in the number of births,” Vishnevsky says. Russians must get used to the idea that they like everyone else are not going to return to the younger age structures of the past.

As far as migration is concerned, he continues, Russia’s growth in population since the start of the 1990s has depended primarily on immigration even in years when there was a small natural increase. And that will continue: how large the Russian population will be in 2035 will depend “not on the number of women and the number of births but on the size of immigration.”

Looking to the future, Vishnevsky concludes, one can expect that Russia will experience a natural decline that will reach its bottom in the early 2030s “after which will begin new growth,” a trend that “will extend into the middle of the century” when a new downturn, reflecting events long ago, is likely.

[Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2017/07/world-war-ii-continues-to-have.html]