Issue 6, November 2008
Russia, like other countries in Europe, is experiencing a population decline. In Russia this is occurring at an alarming rate. In 2006, Russia’s population was just over 142 million, down from 149 million in 1991, a decrease of approximately 5% over a period of fifteen years. Population levels, excluding immigration, are expected to continue to decline in the future even more steeply, to an estimated 123 million in 2025, and 102 million in 2050.
This trend results from a combination of low birth rates and mortality rates which are among the highest in the industrial world. Russian men have a life expectancy that is 15-19 years lower than the average for developed countries; for women, the figure is 7-12 years lower than the average for developed countries. Infant mortality is high, as are rates of AIDS, tuberculosis, and other chronic diseases. Accidents, suicides, and murders account for many premature deaths. Poor health care increases mortality and morbidity figures, and the country experiences high rates of alcohol and drug abuse. Overall, the World Health Organization ranks Russia 127 out of 192 countries on the general health of the population.
Emigration is an enormous concern as well. Recent polls have found that many who have made the transition to the quasi-market economy and have attained a comfortable standard of living hope to emigrate. A study of the elite of Russia’s middle class revealed that half of those polled plan to emigrate, with two-thirds indicating that they would like to send their children abroad to study or work. When asked why they were considering leaving, the reasons cited were: the desire for a stable and safe future; a desire to live under conditions in which rule of law, rights, and freedom prevail; and the desire to enjoy better and more comfortable living conditions.
Vital Concerns of the Nation
Low life expectancy rates are more than symbolic. A life expectancy of 59 years for men means fewer eligible military recruits and productive workers in all industries. The Russian military is plagued with problems of motivation and competence, and the economy as a whole will suffer as the pool of eligible workers shrinks.
Fundamentally, a society is only as strong as its human capital; Russia has yet to focus serious efforts on this problem, despite recent attempts to create incentives for larger families. These incentives do not appear to have met with much success, and probably will not until social conditions stabilize and the government begins to address the areas of concern, including social safety nets, health care and productivity.
Finally, it is worth noting that Russia shares a long border with the world’s most populous country, China. Chinese immigrants already outnumber native Russians in border areas in the Far East. As the Chinese expand their reach for natural resources, it is conceivable that Russia could lose territory in the East, just as NATO and the European Union vie for former Soviet republics bordering Russia.