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The newly released paper by Anne Case and Angus Deaton showing that mortality rates amongst middle-aged White American males (MAWAM) increased from 1999-2013 has been generating a lot of discussion of late. This mortality increase was concentrated amongst MAWAMs with a high school degree or less (“Fishtown,” to borrow from Charles Murray’s archetype of a White working class town), who now have a mortality rate even greater than that of US Blacks with their much-discussed health and violent crime problems. But mortality continued falling amongst the better educated Whites (“Belmont,” Murray’s archetypical White American upper middle class suburb).

This mortality increase was apparently driven by a surge in deaths from external causes, especially poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver cirrhosis. Even MAWAMs with a BS degree or higher saw a tiny increase in deaths from external causes, to the extent that MAWAMs are now more likely to die from external causes in their middle age than Latinos, or even Blacks.


It is worth pointing out that it seems to be a very unusual pattern relative not just to other ethnic groups in the US but to other developed European and Anglo countries. The graph below shows all-cause mortality for 45-54 year old MAWAMs relative to their peers in France, Germany, the UK, Canada, Australia, and Sweden. Americans went from being middle of the pack to an outlier.


As someone familiar with Russian demographic history, this was a depressingly familiar pattern to me.

Russian demographic history 101: By the mid-1960s, Russian life expectancy – both male and female – had basically converged with that of the First World.

Then it essentially stagnated… for half a century.


Remarkably, a Russian 50 year old man in 1964 had a smaller chance of dying (1,129/100,000 annually) than his grandson in 2010 (1,655/100,000) – regardless of all the medical advances in the intervening half century.

This mortality tsunami was driven by a huge rise in alcoholism from the 1960s, coupled with the Soviet Union’s lack of interest in creating a modern hi-tech medical system (as the West started to do in earnest from the 1970s). Although there was a modest interruption to these negative trends in the mid-to-late 1980s, when there was a modest improvement thanks to Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign, the decline resumed with a vengeance in the 1990s as the Soviet state lost its monopoly on vodka production and vodka prices plummeted. In the 2000s things started looking up again, as the Putin government raised excise taxes on vodka, invested in modern medical care, and changing social mores and the labor discipline promoted by capitalist economics started making binge drinking less cool. Even so, as of 2015, the health profiles of Russian men – though far improved relative to the days of the late Brezhnev, to say nothing of Yeltsin – have yet to exceed their mid-1960s peaks.

Although there were some “bad trends” in terms of healthy lifestyle in the West as well from the 197os – it was from this period onwards that the US got started on its obesity epidemic – these were much less detrimental to overall health than the hardcore vodka binge drinking that became prevalent in Soviet life by the 1970s, and their negative effects were in any case more than fully counteracted by vast improvements in emergency response and cardiac medical care.

The great stagnation in MAWAM mortality in the 1990s and 2000s revealed by Case and Deaton – down to the social differentiation, with the situation improving slightly in well-educated, upper class Belmont, but positively plummeting in poorly-educated, lower class Fishtown and more than cancelling out improvements in Belmont so far as MAWAMs as a whole are considered – seems to have a striking parallel with what happened after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Although the post-Soviet mortality crisis was felt across all social groups, it impacted middle-aged Russian men (MARMs) especially hard. Mortality for the best educated segments of the population, while rising initially in the early 1990s, quickly reversed and soon fell below Soviet-era levels. In contrast, the lower class Russians – the “gopnik” class of popular culture – have far poorer health today (despite the Putin era recovery) than even in the most vodka-drenched days of the Soviet Union in the mid-1980s. Here is a 2005 article from the American Journal of Public Health:

The mortality advantage of better-educated men and women in 1980 increased substantially by 2001. In 1980, life expectancy at age 20 for university-educated men was 3 years greater than for men with elementary education only, but was 11 years greater by 2001, reflecting not only declining life expectancy in less-educated men but also an improvement among better-educated men. Similar patterns were seen in women.

Looking at causes of mortality, mortality increases were driven above all by the rise in deaths from poisonings – almost exclusively alcohol deaths, in Russia’s case – and associated factors, such as deaths from external causes (these are linked: When you imbibe vodka in regular binges, you will be more likely to commit suicide, have car accidents, murder your drinking partners in a fit of drunken homicidal rage, etc). Moreover, increases in alcohol death were also reflected in and magnified to a large extent by deaths from cardiovascular diseases – chronic bingeing, needless to say, has bad effects on your overall health – which was further compounded by Russia’s traditional lack of modern medical facilities to treat expensive modern ailments. That is because neither the USSR nor Yeltsinite Russia cared much for the health and welfare of ordinary Russians: So far as the Soviets were concerned, the main thing was to get people through military and reproductive age in more or less adequate shape, and not bother themselves overmuch with what happened to them from their 50s; while the oligarchs who ruled Russia from behind the scenes in the 1990s didn’t care even about that.

To be sure, there are also major differences between the American and Russian experiences. For instance, in Russia, the 1990s and 2000s saw a big dip, and then a big recovery back to late Gorbachev levels of MARM mortality, whereas the mortality rates of MAWAMs simply stagnated at a more or less steady level throughout from 1990 to 2013.

And critically, 1980s Soviet mortality levels themselves began from a much higher base relative to the US. While according to Case and Deaton’s graph MAWAM annual mortality levels for the 45-54 age group were 415/100,000 in 2013, rising to 736/100,000 for poorly educated MAWAMs, that is still far less than the 1,655/100,000 mortality rate for 50 year old MARMs in 2010 (or even in 2014 when it is now perhaps 1,300/100,000).

Nonetheless, regardless of the fact that the US mortality crisis is far less severe in absolute terms, and didn’t undergo the catastrophic “spike” that post-Soviet Russia experienced, the similarities – a major demographic group experiencing a sustained deterioration in its mortality prospects over a period of decades in an industrialized country – are otherwise quite remarkable.

Steve Sailer suggests that the cause of this might be in the stress inflicted on poorer MAWAM workers by mass immigration and other woeful trends:

Perhaps painkiller overdoses, mental health declines, reported pain, disability, dropping out of the labor force, lower wages, and The Big Unmentionable (immigration) all tie together. As Hispanics flooded in, lowering wages, blue collar whites felt less motivated to stay in the labor force as they aged and their bodies got creakier. Getting on disability requires, I imagine, an ability to get doctors and other authority figures to believe your account of musculoskeletal and/or mental health disabilities. The most effective way to get other people to believe you are disabled by physical and mental pain is to believe it yourself. And if you tell the doctor your back is killing you so much you can’t work and you persuade him, he’ll likely write you a prescription for some pills.

Or perhaps it was the 1960s Big Party generation finally burning itself out:

I think there is definitely a pattern in that coming of age in the Late 1960s / 1970s seem to have taken a toll on people, leaving them more vulnerable to dying of overdoses, suicide, and alcoholism later in life.

It’s kind of like how homeless people and AIDS sufferers started showing up in the 1980s. There are all sorts of explanations for these separate effects, some valid, some tendentious, but a common theme that’s almost totally overlooked today is that the 1970s were a Big Party and that took its toll on some people.

Then there is my 2013 post on health inequalities in the US, in which I noticed that unlike Blacks, Asians, and Latinos – whose counterparts abroad have universally lower life expectancies – US Whites are near the bottom of the life expectancy league tables of other majority White countries.

In contrast, US White life expectancy is equivalent to that in not fully developed Chile, and Denmark, the shortest-lived West European country.


This is pretty strange for a country supposedly dominated by “structural racism” and discrimination against its minorities (as many European and American Leftists allege).

Some speculations as to the cause of this pattern were advanced by myself and other people in the comments. One by the commentator Thorfinsson was particularly intriguing:

Extreme Hispanic apathy probably results in good mental health and thus longer lifespans. In America our abundance allows them to achieve the rusty pickup trucks, crappy houses with cars parked on the lawn, Tecate beer (‘scuse me that’s CERVEZA), and 24/7 access to their desired entertainment of telenovelas and pro-wrestling.

As for Asian-Americans being longer lived than their coethnics across the Pacific, I suspect America’s more laid back culture makes for better mental health than the cram and shame obsessed cultures back home.

White Americans on the other hand not only have less healthy lifestyles than their cousins across the pond, but are constantly bombarded with propaganda about how evil they and their ancestors are. Unlike less introspective and curious peoples, they are also given to introspection and moral neurosis. Not a good recipe for good mental or physical health.

But I doubt the explanation is as simple as any of those.

Note that the mortality prospects of middle-aged men in the developed European countries, not to mention Canada and Australia, have continued to improve throughout the 1990s and 2000s, even though many of them too have had a lot of Third World immigrants. That train left the station in the 1960s, not the 2010s, today’s angry rhetoric regardless.

And Yuropeans have been partying at least as hard as Americans since the 1970s. In fact, as someone who has lived in both the UK and the US, I can attest that the prevalence of binge drinking is FAR higher in Britain. Even so, it does not impose a heavy mortality burden even there. That is because British binge drinking mostly occurs amongst robust 16-25 year olds youngsters and only lasts for an evening. The sort of reckless binge drinking that afflicted Russia – and in earlier times, Finland - carried on throughout life and not infrequently degenerated into alcohol layovers lasting several days. Moreover, the “party hard” and recreational drugs culture in both Britain and the US is more of a Belmont thing, while the denizens of Fishtown have to work hard to put food on their family, and in jobs where they are much more likely to be tested for drugs besides.

As for Thorfinsson’s hypothesis, it is entertaining but not very serious. It is intellectual White liberals who read Howard Zinna and agonize over white guilt and have a growing cuckoldry fetish. They are also precisely those MAWAMs whose mortality rates have continued falling.

Otherwise, explanations from the “Left,” like increasing inequality .are not particularly persuasive either. Why didn’t it affect Blacks and Hispanics, who mortality rates continued falling? And besides, virtually the entire world got a great deal more unequal after 1990. Nonetheless, that didn’t stop Western Europe and other Anglo offshots from continuing to improve middle-aged male mortality rates.

Some suggest a connection between neoliberal reform and rising mortality. Contrary to that, after a brief mortality shock in the early 1990s, even decommunizing countries with their own “shock therapies” like Poland started to rapidly increase their life expectancy. This suggests that the primary cause of Russia’s mortality crisis in the 1990s and early to mid 2000s was not so much the much-hated “shock therapy,” as suggested in a famous 2009 Lancet article, but the specific fact of the collapse of the state’s authority, which expressed itself in the loss of control over the hard liquor monopoly, as well as the inability to check the proliferation of underground moonshine operations to serve the alcohol needs of the most far gone Russian alcoholics. At the end of the day, the simple fact was that hard booze got a lot cheaper, and there were many Russians who were willing to take advantage of it. Since vodka is so dominant as a driver of Russian mortality, to the extent that neoliberal reform was responsible for the 1990s Russian mortality crisis, it was because it made cheap hard alcohol more accessible to many Russians.

To wrap this up – while I don’t have any particularly good explanations for the great stagnation in MAWAM mortality prospects, I will suggest the following scenario:

As Case and Deaton state, from the mid-1990s, the US pharma industry has pushed all sorts of painkiller prescriptions including opioids onto the American population. Americans enthusiastically gobbled them up to deal with the bodily pains and discomforts caused by the contemporaneous advance of the obesity epidemic.

The increase in midlife morbidity and mortality among US white non-Hispanics is only partly understood. The increased availability of opioid prescriptions for pain that began in the late 1990s has been widely noted, as has the associated mortality (14, 20‒22). The CDC estimates that for each prescription painkiller death in 2008, there were 10 treatment admissions for abuse, 32 emergency department visits for misuse or abuse, 130 people who were abusers or dependent, and 825 nonmedical users (23). Tighter controls on opioid prescription brought some substitution into heroin and, in this period, the US saw falling prices and rising quality of heroin, as well as availability in areas where heroin had been previously largely unknown (14, 24, 25).

While rising obesity and the growing reach of the pharma industry has been prevalent throughout the First World in the past two decades, nowhere have both of these trends gone as far as in the United States. Possibly it is their combination that has magnified the effects of each to create a much bigger overall effect on the segment of the population most vulnerable to them?

So why, then, did this trend not affect Blacks and Hispanics? After all, their obesity crises are even bigger than those of White Americans. They are also far poorer than Whites. However, possibly their innately much more positive outlooks – Latinos clearly have a higher joie de vivre, while even the poorest Blacks have higher levels of self esteem than the richest Whites – might have translated into a tendency to use fewer pain meds, and perhaps greater defenses against getting seriously hooked on them or gatewaying into stuff like heroin and deciding to end their lives, as far more neurotic Whites are wont to do. In other words, Africanist rhetoric about the psychological dispositions of Sun People vs. Ice People does have some validity to it.

East Asians are relatively neurotic too. But they are also the one racial group in the US that is not having a major obesity crisis, plus their high average IQ ensures few of them live in depressed Fishtown anyway. Their mortality profile has therefore also continued to improve unimpeded.

In effect, maybe MAWAMs have won a sort of genetic anti-lottery: Intelligent enough to be deeply neurotic and prone to suicide, but not intelligent enough to almost entirely avoid Fishtown like Asian-Americans; and wealthy and privileged enough to have bottle of Vicodin as a retirement plan, but not wealthy or genetically endowed enough to avoid obesity on a large scale, which in turn further feeds into the pain meds and neuroticism spiral.

Last but not least, they live in a country where untramelled market forces and technological preeminence have resulted in the complete commercialization of agriculture and healthcare, paradoxically resulting in suboptimal outcomes like the spread of cheap empty carb diets that have led to mass obesity, and the usage of addictive and harmful pharma products to treat those very symptoms.

I am not sure this is anywhere near the correct explanation but I have yet to hear of anything more convincing.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out at least in passing that it is precisely these Fishtown MAWAMs who constitute the core of Donald Trump’s support base. The ordinary, lower class Russians hit hardest by the 1990s mortality shock – for instance, the Uralvagonzavod workers, so despised by Western liberal journalists – are likewise the class showing the biggest support for Putin. As such, this is just the latest if rather small commonality on which there is a kind of Trump-Putin convergence.

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This year will mark yet another milestone in Russia’s steady post-1990s demographic recovery, with the population minus Crimea hitting 144.0 million as of January 1, 2015 [XLS link], relative to 143.7 million in the same period last year. (Excluding Crimea is, needless to say, done not out of political considerations, but to retain the appropriate base for comparison). Though figures for December will only be out in about two weeks’ time, the picture for January-November is positive; despite the continuing pressures of population ageing and the decline in the numbers of women in their childbearing age as the small 1990s cohort enters adulthood, both natality and mortality figures improved slightly relative to 2013. For the second consecutive year running in its post-Soviet history, Russia’s births will substantially supercede deaths. Below shows a summary from state statistics service Rosstat.


But will this happy state of affairs last?

Mark Adomanis and an email correspondent known as “Doug” suggest that the turnaround has come to an end. They are both serious and intelligent people who know a lot about both demographics and Russia, and I am in qualified agreement with most of the points they make. But they might be slightly too pessimistic. Although in the middle term a cessation and perhaps limited reversal of Russia’s demographic uptrend during the Putin years is virtually inevitable, there are a number of factors that will likely soften and considerably mitigate the end of Russia’s demographic uptrend.

Below I will list a summary of their main points and my comments on each one of them.

Fertility Trends

One, most obviously, the “empty cohorts” of the 1990s are now hitting peak reproductive age. So far, that’s been balanced out by a rise in TFR [AK: Total Fertility Rate, an age structure-independent measure of the birth rate] — there are fewer women aged 20-25, but Russian women overall are having more kids per woman. But it seems a bit premature to declare that this will continue to be the case. – Doug.

I always considered the idea that TFR would keep up with the falling numbers of women in their childbearing age to be extremely unlikely, as it would require the TFR to eventually rise above that seen in any other developed country bar Israel. Anybody reading through my demography archives will see this being emphasized repeatedly.

According to my simulations from 2008, if the TFR now remains constant at its current rate of 1.7 children per woman, the crude birth rate will fall below 10/1,000 women by 2025 – today it is at what will likely be a local maximum of ~13.3/1,000 – before bottoming out at around 9/1,000 in the early 2030s. Even if the TFR were to rise to 2.0 children per woman, equivalent to that of the most fertile Western countries like France and Ireland, the crude birth rate by 2025 will still be 11/1,000.

That said, natural population increase is a function of both birth rates and death rates, and there is very ample scope for further improvements in the latter. In the early 2000s, the death rate was at ~16/1,000 and average life expectancy was at just 65 years, mostly due not to any great defect of the healthcare system – after all, even many properly Third World nations achieve life expectancies in the mid- or high-70s – but to the region-wide alcoholism drinking, in the form of vodka binge drinking. Despite the continued pressure of an ageing population, a rise of the life expectancy to 71 years by 2014 was accompanied by a reduction in death rates to 13/1,000. If these trends continue and life expectancy continues rising, reaching 75 years by 2025 – by no means an unrealistic prospect, based on the prior experience of Finnish Karelia and the Baltic states in battling their own alcohol epidemics – then Russia’s birth rates and deaths rates should continue to more or less move in lockstep to each other.

The sign might be a plus or a minus, but contingent on the continuation of current trends – a TFR of around 1.7-1.8, and moderately fast improvements in life expectancy – the magnitude of natural population growth (or decline) will be very small.


Two, the impact of the recession. Recessions almost always depress fertility, and there’s no reason to expect this one to be different. You’d also expect the recession and the weak ruble to affect the immigration / emigration balance.Doug.


As Russia’s economy was growing, wages were increasing, jobs were plentiful, and housing was, if not readily available, than a lot more available than it had been in the past. Russian workers might not have had it great in comparison to their Western peers, but they had it a lot better than at any other point in their history. The rather banal result of this, still rather modest, economic bounty was that people felt more comfortable starting and expanding families and that lots of “guest workers” form the rest of the former Soviet Union moved to Russia to find jobs.

However now that Russia’s economy is set for a nasty recession of indeterminate length, and now that real incomes are getting hit by a combination of currency weakness and inflation, it’s not terribly surprising that its population dynamics are starting to weaken. That’s exactly what you’d expect to happen when a country suffers a sharp short-term economic reversal. Despite the Kremlin’s loud protestations of exceptionalism Russia is not, in fact, all that different: when you hammer the population’s standard of living they react accordingly.Mark Adomanis.

A comprehensive economic collapse followed up with austerity policies can definitely torpedo Russia’s demographic recovery. See the Latvian experience after 2008, or the complete shipwreck that is post-2010 Greece.

But I do believe there are a few reasons why this is overstated:

What’s important is not so much the depth of the economic collapse as the effect it has on social policies. Back in 2009, Russia’s GDP fell by an impressive 8%, but its demographics continued improving nonetheless. That is because the Russian state, flush with accumulated hydrocarbons revenue, could easily avoid implementing painful austerity policies. The consensus estimate for the coming Russian recession is a 4-5% fall in GDP, and there are no plans to cut social spending this time around either.

Having chosen currency devaluation over internal devaluation through austerity and wage cuts – unlike aforementioned Greece and Latvia, who have no influence over EU monetary policy – the Russians worst affected will be already well-off regular consumers of imported produce, whose fertility rates are the least affected by economic considerations. These types of recessions tend to be short but sharp. Surprising everyone, Russian industrial production actually increased by a solid 4.1% this December y/y, and there are several other encouraging leading indicators suggesting that this recession is likely to be pretty mild.

Because migration flows are so much more directly dependent on the economy – a Tajik working as a Gastarbeiter in Russia will now, effectively, earn twice less in the US dollar equivalent than a year ago – net immigration can reasonably be expected to decrease. There are signs this is already happening, as net immigration fell from 277,000 in January-November 2013 to 246,000 in the same period this year. On the other hand, and somewhat tragically, this decline will be substantially or completely covered by increasing immigration of war refugees, draft evaders, political dissenters, and the plain immiserated from Ukraine. Even as overall net immigration fell, it rose via-a-vis Ukraine from 36,000 last year to 78,000 this year, and frankly this is probably a huge underestimate (other sources state it’s close to a million). This is a huge loss for Ukraine, but a boon for Russia; after all, Ukrainian immigrants don’t raise the sorts of subpar human capital and integration issues that Central Asians and Caucasians do.

Vodka and Mortality

Three, cheaper vodka. Apparently vodka consumption dropped by more than 10% just between 2012 and 2013 — a very encouraging sign! But that’s likely to go into reverse this year, especially if the cut in price is accompanied by a relaxation of anti-alchohol campaigns and policies. Historically, the effects of changing access to alcohol have shown up pretty quickly in the numbers — you can pretty much spot the departure of Krushchev and the end of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaigns just by staring at mortality statistics. So I’d expect a visible shift. The open question will be the magnitude.Doug.

Just to be clear, I agree that the decision to cut vodka prices from this February is a bad one. Putin justifies it by the need to prevent people from drinking more surrogates, but the empirical evidence indicates that prices are closely linked to overall consumption, which is in turn linked to mortality. While higher prices will increase illicit (and more dangerous) production, only a small percentage of people, typically the truly dependent and lost causes, partake in it anyway.

That said, the 2010s are not the 1980s, and there are a number of differences between now and then that would imply that the effects of lowering vodka prices now will have fewer negative than back then.

Despite the immediate effectiveness of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign – life expectancy instantly jumped up by two years – it was very much imposed top down and worked in a blunt, authoritarian, and frequently plain idiotic manner (e.g. the destruction of Crimean vineyards, which had absolutely nothing to do with Russia’s alcohol epidemic, at least as it related to population health). Its effects faded away almost as soon as the campaign dissolved away in the chaos of the Soviet collapse.

In contrast, what occured in recent years was the introduction of many legal regulations which exist in the West – elementary things, like restrictions on advertising and banning vodka sales after 10pm and from kiosks – as well as a gradual change in tastes and mentality that have propeled a shifting preference for beer and wine over vodka. (This is good, since beer and wine isn’t near as bad for you as vodka). In 2014, vodka production in Russia fell by a further 22%. Deaths from alcohol poisoning today, while still much higher than in normal countries, are as of 2014 lower even than they were during the height of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign. There is also good evidence indicating that Russian demand for vodka is slowly but surely becoming largely delinked from its price, as is the case in any Western country.

The modest decrease in the vodka price planned for 2015 will surely do not good, but it is highly unlikely to reverse or even stop the powerful trends that have been leading the decline in vodka bingeing for the past decade.

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This is the first of my promised Last Three Posts on DR. It’s been a bit more than a year since my last update on Russia’s demographic turnaround, and believe it or not, the cause of this was more than just laziness and lack of time on my part. A different question started bugging me:

Is there really a point to it?

Nobody concerns himself overmuch with the United Kingdom’s birth rate, and its portents for the economic and geopolitical destiny of that land. Well, some actually do, but said concern is of the Eurabia, not the Children of Men, variety. In contrast, the image of Russia formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union was one of a desolate wasteland where women voted with their wombs against its continued existence. This might have once had some elements of truth to it, but surely this view is increasingly fantastic now that Russia’s crude birth rate, at 13.2/1,000 in 2013 – and slated to rise even higher this year – is the highest bar none in Europe. It is also, as of 2012, higher than that of the US. The only developed countries where birth rates remain higher than Russia’s are Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland.

A major cause of this is that Russia still has a relatively high number of women in their childbearing years, even though this indicator began to drop precipitously from around 2010, when the effects of the post-Soviet fertility collapse started making themselves felt. This is an inescapable structural legacy that will be making itself felt in the form of downwards pressure on crude birth rates until well into the 2030s. This is where a concept known as the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) comes in. The TFR measures the expected number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime, and is calculated by summing up age-specific fertility rates in a single year. Its advantage is that it is independent of the population’s age structure. After plunging to a low of 1.16 children per woman in 1999 – a “lowest-low” fertility rate that was once theorized by some demographers to be irreversible – it has since climbed to 1.71 in 2013, and on the trends observed this year until August, will rise further to the mid-to-high 1.7s in 2014.

(And before you ask, no, it’s not all down to Muslims. Or even significantly so.)


This map shows European TFRs as of 2013 (or 2012 in a few cases). In the late Soviet years, Russia was deep green, but plunged into the red and deep orange during the dislocations of the transition years. But it has now regained a greenish hue. A normal country, quite similar in its TFR to Finland or the Netherlands – countries not particularly known for being in a deep demographic abyss. And considerably better than the Christian Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Baltics, the Germanic lands, and East-Central Europe. It is, in fact, remarkable that the two countries considered to be Europe’s most politically “regressive” by the Brussels-Atlanticist elites – that is, Russia and Belarus – have come to possess Eastern Europe’s best TFR indicators, while star reformers such as Poland and the Balts wallow in the demographic doldrums. This must be a bitter pill to swallow for the ideologues who claimed demographic decline is a natural consequence of Putinism. Or it would be, if they ever bothered descending from their pulpits to look at actual statistics, but they don’t.

Russia performs much more poorly on measures of mortality and life expectancy. This has its roots not in Putin’s age, nor even in the Soviet collapse, but in the alcoholism epidemic that began to spread throughout the Soviet Union from the 1960s. This is when life expectancy, previously rising fast, hit a plateau at close to 70 years and then stagnated indefinitely with the occasional peak (e.g. Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign) and trough (the mid-1990s).

In the early 2000s, it was estimated that excessive drinking – which in Russia takes the form of concentrated vodka (if not moonshine or other substitutes) binges, as opposed to the moderate daily wine drinking characteristic of Mediterranean countries that on paper drink abou as much as Russia – accounted for 32% of aggregate mortality (including 23% of CVDs, 42% of suicides, and 72% of homicides). In comparison, this figure was just 4% in Finland, by far the most “alcoholized”of the old EU countries. But thanks to increasing wealth, changing cultural mores, increasing state taxes on alcohol, and advertising restrictions, the prevalence of bingeing has been going down for the past decade. This trend is directly reflected in the mortality rate from alcohol poisoning, which peaked around 2003 and has since plummeted to levels significantly lower than even in 1990, when Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign was still active. Suicide rates and homicide rates are also vastly down, in the process making a mockery of a large part of Michael McFaul’s academic career (he wrote a huge and hugely influential Foreign Policy article arguing that public health declined in Putin relative to Yeltsin’s time).


Overall mortality too has declined significantly, from a peak of 16.4/1,000 in 2003 to 13.0 in 2013, despite the continued ageing of the population. This resulted in very considerable growth in the life expectancy. After hovering around 65 years from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s, it started rising quickly and broke the symbolic 70 year barrier for the first time in Russian history. This positive trend continued, with the 71 year mark likely to be passed this year.


There is still a long way to go, of course. The Baltic states and Hungary, where alcoholism was also somewhat of an epidemic during the Communist period, have a life expectancy of 75 years (though it was more like 70 years, i.e. Russia’s today, some 5-10 years ago). In traditionally more sober – at least as regards vodka bingeing at any rate – Poland and the Czech Republic, it is 77-78 years. In Finland, a country that shares Russia’s traditional drinking culture, but avoided its Communist experience and from the 1970s acquired access to high-end healthcare, it is 81 years. But the progress that has been made in the past decade has been very considerable and is in considerable part attributable to the policies of the Russian government under Putin.


One consequence of the big improvements in fertility and mortality indicators is that had by the 2000s, what had become pessimistically known as “the Russian Cross” – the sharp crossover between the number of births and deaths observed in Russia as the Soviet Union fell apart – has since transformed into the Russian Hexagon, my term for the return of demographic “normality.”

Perhaps the one concerning recent trend is in the migration sphere. Are Russians, or at least the Echo of Moscow liberal types – after the “sixth wave of emigration” loudly trumpeted three years back, and ruthlessly exposed on this blog – finally making good on their promise of “pora valit” (“it’s time to leave”)?


Upon a closer examination of the migration stats, it’s clear that the answer to that question is in the negative. By far the biggest portion of the recent increase in emigration accrued to member states of the CIS; rest assured that people are not going from Russia to Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, or Kyrgyzstan in search of a better life. Moreover, the emigration increase was largely matched with an increase in immigration from those countries. This suggests a bureacratic as opposed to a “real” change, e.g. better border surveillance, or a change in the reporting procedures. While there was a significant increase in emigration to the Far Abroad, its overall scale remains virtually insignificant both relative to population flows between Russia and its Near Abroad, and to Russian emigration to to the West in the 1990s.

None of the cataclysms predicted for Russia in the days when a “dying bear” article was getting published every other week have come to pass. There is no sub-Saharan African level AIDS epidemic. The Chinese have yet to take over Siberia, and the Muslims have yet to take over the Russian Army. The population hasn’t plumetted to 130-135 million, as many demographic models were predicting for 2015 just a few years ago; to the contrary, even discounting Crimea’s return to the fold, Russia’s population has decisively broken its post-Soviet pattern of decline, and is now back to 144 million and is slowly but steadily growing. Russia’s demographic trajectory in the years since I started this blog and created my own demographic models has exceeded even my most optimistic predictions.

There is no more point in talking about Russia’s (non-existent) demographic crisis or really in paying undue attention to it, except perhaps insofar as it could provide lessons to other countries on how to escape from a demographic rut (in particular, a strong argument can be made that maternal capital can have real efficacy, in contrast to the conventional demographic wisdom of ten years’ yore).

In short: The bear is not dead. Long live the bear!

The real puzzle now, if anything, is explaining how a negative Russia trope could sustain itself so long in the Western press – a Washington Post op-ed from this very month is still, risibly, talking about Russia’s “demographic decline” – long after whatever factual underpinnings it might have once had have crumbled away. It’s amazing how pundits get away with elementary mistakes like this in a press environment that at least pretends to be free, professional, and adversarial (unlike those lying goons at RT).

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Demography, Mortality, Western Media 
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Is summarized below for each state (source) – and it shows some very interesting patterns.


The average life expectancy of Asian-Americans (86.5 years) is 4 years higher than in Japan – the longest-lived big East Asian country. Taiwan and South Korea are at around 80; Hong Kong is at 83; Singapore is at 81. The other East Asian countries aren’t developed yet, so there isn’t much point in comparison.

The LE of Latinos is 82.8, which is 6 years more than in Mexico, 4 years more than in the longest-lived Latin American countries and even a year higher than in Spain (one of the longest-lived European countries). This is despite the fact that obesity rates among Hispanics in the US is very high – higher than those of whites.

On average American whites can expect to live to just 78.9 – the same as in Chile or Denmark (the shortest-lived Western European country). A most curious anomaly, given their higher SES and lower obesity rates relative to Hispanics.

Blacks can expect to live around 74.2 years. This is far higher than in any African country, but the comparison is flawed for obvious reasons. It is however pretty close to the life expectancy in predominantly mulatto Caribbean countries like Jamaica (73 years) or the Bahamas (75 years), countries which are more suitable for comparison.

Native Americans average 76.9 years, though they are spread out all across the spectrum – ranging from 80 in California, to 69 in Montana.

Some questions and issues to ponder:

(1) The influence of diet and lifestyle: This is pretty clear-cut in the case of the Native Americans; the groups with life expectancy at around ~70 are no doubt brought down by those of them who live in alcohol-soaked reservations. This is the same life expectancy in Russia and some other former Soviet countries, where binge drinking of spirits is likewise prevalent. But it is genuinely interesting to consider why Latinos, who are more obese than whites, nonetheless manage to live so consistently longer – both relative to white Americans, and even to Spaniards. Likewise for Asians – although Asian-Americans are inevitably more influenced by American food habits than East Asians in their own countries – which are said to have far healthier national cuisines – they nonetheless manage to live significantly longer than them.

(2) The influence of the US healthcare system: It is frequently slammed and denigrated, but how to explain that the two biggest immigrant groups – Latinos and Asians – live a lot longer than in their countries of origin (including the developed ones)? Conversely, why would white America, if it were a separate country, be at near the very bottom of the life expectancy charts compared to Western European countries?

(3) One rejoinder is that immigrants to the US are better-educated, higher-IQ, and/or richer than the average in their countries of origin. As such, they are expected to have a higher life expectancy anyway. But this is patently not the case regarding Hispanics, and only partially true regarding Asians (Chinese Americans include both low-class indentured laborers who migrated in the 19th century, as well as far more commercially successful recent migrants from the Chinese diaspora of South-East Asia; the Japanese-American community is mostly descended from low-class laboring immigrants from the 19th century).

(4) The r/K selection theory plausibly explains the Black – White – Asian life expectancy sequence, especially in the US where they all share more or less the same cultural and healthcare environment. The case of the Latinos, however, remains rather shrouded; one possibility is that Amerindians (which is what many Hispanic immigrants to the US predominantly are) are more K-selected than whites – they did, after all, branch off from the proto-Mongoloids – and thus naturally have higher life expectancies than whites.

(5) Asian-Americans and Latinos are younger than whites. This does not have a direct effect on life expectancy (unlike on crude mortality), but with a greater ratio of young people to elderly – not to mention stronger family values – it does perhaps mean that elderly Asian-Americans and Latinos get more attention and care from their family members, thus reducing stress/depression levels and enabling them to eke out one or two more years than they would have otherwise.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
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H/t AP for this beauty. It is for 2012.


[Click to enlarge].

It speaks for itself so comprehensively that I’m not sure it’s worth commenting further on my part here. Let’s leave that to the comments section.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Demography, Population Growth, Russia 
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Here it is, for those who read Russian. The May data also has emigration data, which is not included in the prelimary estimates – that is here.

The main points to take away:

  • Births fell 0.3% and deaths fell 0.5%; as a result, the overall natural decrease has fallen from -57,000 in 2012 to -53,000 in 2013.
  • This is amply compensated for by the 101,000 net immigration for Jan-May 2013.
  • Russia’s population is estimated to have risen from about 143.3m at the end of 2012 to 143.4 now, with the fertile summer months still ahead. Overall, we can reasonably expect that as with last year, zero natural population growth and 250,000-300,000 net immigrants will enable Russia to eke out another small if solid population increase to 143.5-143.6m by year-end.
  • In per capita terms, the birth rate remained steady at 12.7/1000 as did the death rate at 13.5/1000.
  • These figures are, of course, for the first half of the year; in the second half, births tend to rise while mortality falls (more Russians die during the winter). In 2012, the birth rate and death rate both converged to 13.3/1000 by year-end. Barring unexpected shocks, roughly the same thing should happen this year.

And now, a brief regional comparison:

  • The situation in Ukraine is significantly worse. For Jan-May, the birth rate was at 10.3/1000 while the death rate was at 15.3/1000. Relative to the previous year, births fell while deaths remained steady.
  • In Belarus the birth rate for Jan-Jun is at 12.0/1000, while the death rate is at 13.8/1000. The death rate increased slightly from the previous year, while the birth rate increased significantly.
  • Caution should be used in interpreting these figures. In particular, Ukraine and Belarus don’t, of course, have vigorous minorities in the Caucasus and southern Siberia as does Russia – who make up a small but certainly non-negligible fraction of its population.
  • In particular, comparing Belarus with Russia’s Central region or Pskov, as would only be fair, it comes off looking very good indeed.
  • Ukraine however is definitely falling behind, especially considering that it too has a vigorous minority (of sorts) in the three westernmost oblasts which have a different demographic pattern to the rest of the country. Basically, there is no equivalent in either Russia (maybe a couple of particularly run down oblasts), Belarus, or probably anywhere else in the post-Soviet space for the very low birth rates and high death rates that characterize most of Ukraine’s eastern and central regions.

Apart from that:

  • The pattern of Russian mortality continues to get better, with deaths from external causes (aka the worst kind) falling most rapidly as has been the pattern of late. But deaths from alcohol poisoning, though still falling, are beginning to fall less rapidly. Could it be tied with more moonshine production in the wake of the big excise rises on vodka seen in the past few months?
  • The only major disease categories that saw increases in mortality are deaths from lung-related disease and from other causes. This might be tied to the unusually harsh winter seen this year (more elderly tend to die in hard winters, of the above causes).
(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Belarus, Demography, Mortality, Ukraine 
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Faced with the utter failure of their doom-laden projections for Russia’s population future to describe reality – it’s population is now not only growing in absolute terms, but even barring migration its number of births now virtually equals the number of deaths – the more guttural elements of the interwebs are now resorting to another strategy: “But it’s all due to Muslims anyway!”

A bizarre alliance of neocons, Western chauvinists, crazy Russian nationalists, Islamist fanatics, and plain Russophobes have been peddling the imminent prospect of a Muslim-majority Russian Army and a Russabia ruled from the Caucasus Emirates for almost a decade. But one does not have to be a proponent of mass Muslim immigration, or to deny that serious problems of radicalization exist in some Russian Muslim communities, to call out such projections for the fear-mongering BS they really are. Here is a graph that decisively refutes the “Russabia” thesis:


The percentage of births in Russia’s traditionally Muslim” republics in the North Caucasus (Agygea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Chechnya) and the Volga (Bashkortostan, Tatarstan) is a mere 13%-14% of the total – and shows no signs of increasing at a sustained and rapid rate.

It should furthermore be noted that of the above only Dagestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia have predominantly Muslim population – and their share of total Russian births, at just a little above 5%, are today virtually the same as they were in 2006. This is especially relevant because the vast bulk of Russia’s problems with Islamic fundamentalism and armed opposition to Russian state power are concentrated there.

Only about 50% (give or take) of the populations of the other five republics is Muslim, so if anything – despite the graph being partially balanced out by Muslim immigrants in Moscow and other non-Muslim regions – it substantially overstates the actual degree of Muslim demographic influence. Needless to say, the Orthodox Russians (and ethnic Tatars) who make up half of Tatarstan’s population aren’t going on jihad to restore the Qasim Khanate anytime soon.

It should be stressed that even the figures above will only start coming into effect two decades or so down the line. That is to say, only about 13% of 20-year olds in the 2030′s will have have been born in Muslim republics; the percentage of those belonging to Muslim-majority ethnicities will be even lower, at maybe 9% or 10%. How Muslims are supposed to constitute a majority in the Army with those kinds of figures must remain a mystery.

Finally, the Muslim demographic expansion is self-limiting. A lot of the people who push Russabia (and Eurabia) are apparently under the impression that their typical family has 6 children, which in turn will have 6 children, and so on until they squeeze out everyone else. This is completely and utterly wrong. In Russia, at least, the only Muslim region with a TFR higher than the replacement level rate is Chechnya; as of 2009, it was at 3.38 children per woman, compared to 1.97 in Ingushetia, 1.96 in Dagestan, and far less in all the others – in fact, both Kabardino-Balkaria’s and Tatarstan’s TFR of 1.51 was *less* than the Russian average of 1.54. As such, far from reflecting any innate demographic strength, the current high rates of natural increase seen in Russia’s Muslim republics – or even more specifically, in Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya – are due in large part to the youthfulness of those regions’ populations. Young populations have, by definition, few old people (hence low mortality) and many young people (hence high natality). Considering that *all* of Russia’s Muslim regions with the partial exception of Chechnya – which, however, accounts for a mere 1% of its population and 2% of its newborn – are rapidly undergoing demographic transition, this is necessarily a temporary state of affairs.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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But first, a note about those two articles published here this morning: As I hope many (if not all) of you guessed, it was a scheduling accident. In particular, as regards the piece “Russia’s Economy Is Now Europe’s Largest,” this is what I expected to see once the World Bank released its PPP-adjusted GNI figures for 2012 (it always does this in April, but for whatever reason it has been late this year). Russia is already very close to Germany as of 2011, and due to a planned harmonization of its GDP counting methodology with international standards – i.e. the introduction of imputed rent – it is projected to automatically increase by 5% in addition to its normal growth. Hence the title: It’s something that’s likely to happen, hence I wrote that title with “see data” for text and scheduled it for publication on April 30th, on the assumption that the World Bank will have released its new data by then and I’d have time to write the actual post. But the World Bank dallied and I forgot about the scheduled publication date.

Now, onto the demography. In contrast to the first 3 months of 2012, when both mortality and birth rates saw big improvements, they have now gone into reverse for the same period in 2013. Namely, births have decreased by 0.8%, deaths have also risen by 0.8%, and the rate of natural decrease widened from 35,000 in 2012 to 43,000 in 2013. Mark Adomanis notes that this is a “pretty worrying development,” with “2013 is shaping up to be the year in which Russia’s streak of improving demography comes to an end.”

That is true enough if current trends continue. The operative word being “if.” But as I cautioned in my last post, extrapolating from a month or even a few months is a risky proposition, given the sharp seasonal swings in mortality. This is particularly true for extrapolations from winter months, in which there is an additional strong independent factor in the form of the influenza/pneumonia situation (which, on average, is worse during colder winters) and climatic factors (e.g. all else equal, Russians tend to drink more during colder winters). Now we know that this year’s has been exceptionally severe in Russia, so let’s look at the detailed breakdown for causes of mortality: -3% for infectious diseases, -1% for cancers and heart/CVD diseases, +18% for pulmonary diseases (e.g. pneumonia), no change in digestive tract diseases, -5% for deaths from external causes (but a +1% rise in alcohol poisonings), and +14% in deaths from sundry causes.

Now on the surface this now looks quite a lot better. Despite a harsh winter, deaths from heart disease (the biggest killer in Russia) continued to decline, as did deaths from external causes (which disproportionately affect the young and thus have an especially negative impact on life expectancy). The additional 3,000 increase in deaths from pulmonary diseases will have mostly accrued to elderly deaths from pneumonia, most likely due to the season swings typical of its epidemiology. The major, overriding question is this: What are “deaths from sundry causes” (прочие причины смерти)? I don’t know. But we can speculate. In old age, it is frequently unclear which of a panoply of ailments finally do someone in. And harsh winters are associated with mortality rises, especially among the elderly. Perhaps a large part of that 7,000 rise in deaths from “sundry causes” were simply a result of more elderly dying due to general winter causes and not being precisely classified.

In any case, I submit that three months is too short a time period to make any meaningful conclusions as to the final trajectory for the year. Again, I refer to Sergey Zhuravlev’s graph as a graphic demonstration of why that is so. Russia’s improvements in mortality are not a steady process, to the contrary they look like a series of intermittent sharp declines followed by steady periods of up to a year’s duration.

Then there is the decline in birth rates. To be fair, it is increasingly unrealistic to expect further rises in crude birth rates, because the “echo effect” is real (if often overstated, because of a failure to adjust for birth postponement/rising age of mother at childbirth). Russia’s total fertility rate started plummeting around 1991; the girls born then are now in their early 20′s. The average age of the mother at childbirth is now about 27 and rising, and up by 2 years since the 1990′s. Nonetheless, despite that counteracting effect, the fact is that the demographic “chasm” of the 1990′s continues to gain on women at their peak fertility (even if the age of peak fertility continues to increase) and it is a deep chasm, with women of the age of 5-19 making up just 61% of women of the age of 20-34 in 2012. So as there will be accumulating downwards pressure from changes in the age structure until the late 2020′s/early 2030′s we can now expect crude birth rates to start consistently falling from year to year.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Demography, Mortality, Public Health 
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Hard as it is to believe, but in the wake of the Boston Bombings, many Western commentators actively trying to find the roots of the Tsarnaev brothers’ rage in Russia’s “aggression” or even “genocide” of Chechnya.

This is not to deny that Chechens did not have an exceptionally hard time of it in the 1990s. That said, what strikes one is the pathological one-sidedness of some of the commentary, such as this vomit-inducing screed by Thor Halvorssen, a self-imagined human rights promoter from Norway. In their world, it is a simple morality tale of small, plucky Chechnya being repeatedly ravaged by the big, bad Russian imperialist – and it is one that many people, conditioned in appropriate ways for two decades by the Western media, swallow hook, line, and sinker.

It’s not that simple. But rather than (re)dredging up many words and sources, let’s just suffice with one of the most telling graphs on the matter: The population graph of Chechnya since 1989.


Some people are certainly getting ethnically cleansed there alright, but it’s not who you might think it is. So this, essentially, is what the Russian “genocide” of Chechens boils down to: 715,306 Chechens & 269,130 Russians in 1989; 1,206,551 Chechens & 24,382 Russians in 2010. Russians almost entirely gone from there, even though the lands north of the Terek River – that is, about a third of Chechnya – were first settled by Cossacks during the 16th century and had never been Chechen until the 20th century. Those Russians (and other minority ethnicities) were terrorized out of Chechnya during the rule of “moderate nationalists” Maskhadov and Zakayev, whom the likes of Halvorssen describe as the “legitimate government of Chechnya,” with several thousand of them murdered outright. This ethnic cleansing continued unimpeded into the 2000s with the complicit silence of the “nationalist” Putin regime.

I really wish all the (non-Chechen) “Free Chechnya!” people could be reborn as minorities in 1990′s Chechnya in their next lives so that the likes of Halvorssen can experience firsthand the extent to which Chechens “share the democratic values of a Western civilization.”

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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Russia’s life expectancy is said to have decreased to 69.70 years, from 69.83 years in 2011 (via Mark Adomanis via Alexei Kovalev via Paul Goble via Izvestia). The figure for 2011 had in its turn been previously lowered from 70.3 years. So what gives? Does this herald a “disturbing trend”? Is Russia entering a period of demographic stagnation, just as it is (allegedly) in economic and political stagnation?

Maybe, but let me clear up the reasons for these revisions. It fell from 70.3 years to 69.83 for 2011 because of new data about the population structure from the results of the 2010 Census. Not a decline per se, just an observation that the LE should have been lower than previously estimated. There’s nothing special about this except insomuch as it is now incorrect to talk about Russian life expectancy finally breaking the symbolic 70 year mark (at least for now).

Now the decline from 2011 to 2012 is extremely unlikely to be due to an actual worsening in the demographic situation. Mortality has fallen, not by a lot but it has fallen (-1.5%), and it has fallen most in the category “deaths from external causes” (-5%) which primarily affect younger people and thus have a disproportionate (negative) effect on life expectancy. So logically LE should have increased, especially if we also take into account that Russia’s population is also steadily aging. What explains the discrepancy? As pointed out by Murray Feshback, Mark Schrad, and the commentator Alexander Matuzkov on Adomanis’ blog, the method of calculating infant mortality had changed in 2012 – the effect of which was to increase it by 25%, by bringing it into line with international norms. (I had already blogged about it here so it’s a bit embarrassing I hadn’t thought of it myself).

Now there’s also some concern that January 2013 saw a big rise in mortality (+9% y/y). Does it presage something catastrophic? Pretty much no, because month to month mortality and fertility is extremely variable in Russia, due to seasonal factors. Below is a graph from Sergey Zhuravlev’s blog that eloquently demonstrates the point.


Now this is why you should ignore wild demographic swings month to month (just as you shouldn’t extrapolate as to the future trend of global warming from the weather last night). Otherwise you may be making unduly pollyannaish or apocalyptic projections that will more likely than not end up making you look foolish.


Some people like to say that Russia has only returned to natural population stability because of high fertility among Caucasus Muslims (who will overrun it and establish a Moskvabad Caliphate, at least in the febrile imaginations of Russian nationalists and Mark Steyn). Well, that is correct in a narrow sense, but in a way that clouds the actual picture.

As we can see from the graphic above, whereas the biggest chunk of positive growth does come from the South and the North Caucasus (in practice, all of it would be from the North Caucasus, as the South still has a marginally negative natural growth), the Urals and Siberian regions – all of them predominantly ethnic Russian – have already returned to positive natural population growth, while the natural population decrease in the older, more settled parts of European Russia are now but a tiny fraction of what it was just a few years ago. On current trends, the non-Slavic Caucasian peoples will add about a million or so in the next decade, but so what? That’s equivalent to less than 1% of the total ethnic Russian population, which itself will remain roughly stagnant during that same period.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Caucasus, Demography, Population Growth 
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One of the keystones of the “Dying Bear” meme is the factoid that abortions outnumber births in Russia. As Mark Steyn put it, “When it comes to the future, most Russian women are voting with their fetus.” The only problem is that there is no causal relation between abortions and demographic health whatsoever – and for that matter it is no longer even true factually.


There were 814,149 abortions in 2012, which is less than 50% of the 1,896,263 births during the same period. As we can see from the graph above, abortion as a method of fertility control was specific to the Soviet era and has been in rapid decline since the mid-1990′s. In fact Russia’s abortion rate is now basically equivalent to America’s during the early 1980′s, a decade after Roe vs. Wade. The real story about abortions in Russia is that they have been plummeting in all its regions in the past two decades as it steadily becomes a “normal country” in this as on an array of other indicators; its overall numbers of abortions per live births (43%) are now rapidly converging on the 10%-30% range typical of other developed nations.

But this chart also brings us to another point. A recent Weekly Standard article by Daniel Halper, which makes errors beyond demography (no, Putin did NOT invite Boyz II Men to sing fertility chants), reviews a new book by Jonathan V. Last about how the long supposedly doesn’t have enough babies. Not only does he claim that there are 13 abortions per live births in Russia – a statistic that was last true a decade before the book was published! – but that it “suggests a society that no longer has the will to live.” In that case, what would have made of the RSFSR circa 1965, when abortions reached an all time peak of 27 per 10 live births? Well, in 1965 the birth rate (15.7/1000) was double the death rate (7.6/1000), and the total fertility rate was at an entirely sound and replacement level rate of 2.14 children per woman!

That is the problem with moralistic rhetoric of the “voting with their fetuses” variety. Not only in Russia’s case is it now increasingly wrong at a basic factual level, along with the “voting with their feet” brouhaha over the non-existence emigration crisis, but it doesn’t even describe how the world works in general. Abortion rates were world historically high in the post-Stalin USSR, but at the same time it had eminently sustainable fertility stats. On the other hand, modern Poland – the lovechild of Anglo mainstream conservatives like Mark Steyn and Jonathan Last – has a blanket ban on abortions, but its fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman is now considerably lower than “dying Russia’s” 1.7 or so children per woman.

In reality, abortion tends to be low in low-fertility and high-fertility advanced societies alike, because people get access to pills and realize that wearing a condom is preferable to getting an STD, being saddled with child support, and/or undergoing the physical and psychological stress of an abortion.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Demography, Statistics 
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One of the standard memes about Russia’s demographic trajectory was the “Russian Cross.” While at the literal level it described the shape of the country’s birth rate and death rate trajectories, a major reason why it entered the discourse was surely because it also evoked the foreboding of the grave.


But this period now appears to have come to a definitive end. Russia’s population ceased falling around at about 2009; in the past year, it has increased by over 400,000 thanks to net immigration.

Meanwhile, against all general expectations, the birth rates and death rates have essentially equalized. Whereas in 2011 natural decrease was still at a substantial 131,000, preliminary figures indicate that it has subsided to a mere 2,573 for this year. It could just as easily turn positive once the figures are revised. For all intents and purposes, the “Russian Cross” has become the “Russian Hexagon.”


This is a momentous landmark in many ways.

(1) More than anything else, Russia’s demographic crisis during the past two decades has been advanced as a quintessential element of its decline. Phrases such as the aforementioned “Russian cross”, the “demographic death spiral”, and “”the dying bear” proliferated in respectable journals and books. Until a few years ago, some entirely serious demographic projections had Russia’s population falling to as low as 130 million by 2015. This “deathbed demography” imagery was in turn exploited by many journalists to implicit condemn the rottenness of the Russian state in general and Putin in particular. Will they now rush to trumpet Russia’s demographic recovery, which was only possible through directed state intervention to improve the population’s health, cut down on the alcohol epidemic, and provide generous benefits for families with second children? For some reason I suspect the amount of ink that will be spilt on this will be but a tiny, minuscule fraction of that used to herald Russia’s demographic apocalypse. They will predictably move on to other failures and inadequacies – both real or perceived.

(2) For many years there has existed the notion among some demographers that once a society’s total fertility falls to a “lowest-low” level, there can be no return. It was theorized that the social values of childlessness and small families would spread, and that the resultant rapid aging would make it impossible for young families to have many children anyway. Russia’s total fertility rate fell to a record low of 1.16 children per woman in 1999, but rose above 1.30 in 2006, reached 1.61 in 2011, and rose further to an estimated 1.70 in 2012. It is thus so far the biggest and most important exception to this “lowest-low fertility trap hypothesis.” In reality, what was actually happening was that many Russian women were postponing the formation of families – a process common to most nations that reach a certain level of development. This in turn laid the foundations for the mini-baby boom that were are now seeing.

(3) There was likewise widespread pessimism that Russia’s life expectancy would ever significantly improve for the better. In the best case, it was assumed it would creep upwards, reaching 70 years or so in another few decades. However, the experience of other regions with Russia’s mortality profile, such as North Karelia in the 1980′s or the Baltic states in the 2000′s – very high death rates among middle aged men who drank too much – suggested that rapid improvements are possible with the right mix of policy interventions. This has happened. Russia’s life expectancy in 2012 was about 71 years, still nothing to write home about; however, it was higher than it ever was in the USSR, where it reached a peak of 70.0 years at the height of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign in 1987, and equal to Estonia’s in 2002, Hungary’s in 1998, and Finland’s in 1973. If it were now to follow in Estonia’s mortality trajectory – and this is not an unreasonable supposition, considering Russia is now passing the tough anti-alcohol and anti-smoking taxes and regulations typical of developed countries – it would be on track to reach a life expectancy of 75 years by 2020 (Putin’s goal of 2018 is however probably too optimistic).


In particular, it should be noted that the worst types of deaths – those from external causes – have been cut down the most radically. Though they only account for a small proportion of total deaths, they tend to happen at earlier ages and thus have a significant impact on the workforce and overall life expectancy out of proportion to their actual prevalence. A calculation from 2005 showed that the effect of a 40% decline in deaths from external causes would be as good as a 20% decline in deaths from all circulatory diseases at extending male life expectancy. This has been achieved; as of 2012 it was at 125/100,000, down from an average of about 250/100,000 during the “demographic crisis” period but still far, far short of the 40/100,000 rates more typical of developed countries with no alcoholism epidemics. But as I’ve said before and will say again, while Russia’s “hypermortality” crisis isn’t anywhere near as severe as it once was, it is nothing to write home about; a great deal remains to be done. But the trend-lines are pointing firmly down, and the economic crisis of 2009 had zero effect on the underlying processes. This is extremely encouraging, as it implies that Russia has now become a “normal country” in which improvements in health and mortality steadily advance regardless of economic fluctuations.

I have anticipated many of these developments, and indeed, ventured forth with projections of my own. Here are some predictions made on the basis of my research and analysis from 2008:

  1. Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest. CHECK.
  2. Natural population increase will occur starting from 2013 at the latest. CHECK.
  3. Russia’s total life expectancy will exceed 68 years by 2010 and reach 75 years by 2020. Looks increasingly LIKELY.

There is no need for false modesty. I put my neck on the line and came out best against most of the established expert opinion.

But this is no time to rest on laurels and reminsce on past glories. The 2010 Census is out. Demographic data up till 2012 is available. It’s been a long four years since I wrote that model. It is high time to update it. I’ve been planning to do that for my book anyway, but now that I think about it, why not publish a paper at the same time? I have long been a fan of open access anyway, especially as regards academia.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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I just remembered I’d made some in 2012. It’s time to see how they went, plus make predictions for the coming year.

Of course I failed to predict the biggest thing of them all: The hacking that made me throw in the towel on Sublime Oblivion (remember that?), but with the silver lining that I could now split my blog between my interest in Russia and my interest in many other things. After all tying my criticism of the Western media on Russia with topics like climate change and futurism and HBD was never a very good fit. Overall I am very satisfied with the new arrangement.

Predictions For 2013

(1) Russia will see slight positive natural population growth (about 50,000) as well as significant overall population growth (about 400,000). Do bear in mind that this prediction was first made back in 2008 when a Kremlinologist who did the same would have been forced into a mental asylum.

(2) The life expectancy will reach 71.5 years, the total fertility rate will rise to 1.8. The birth rate will reach a local maximum at about 13.3-13.5 (it will then remain steady for a couple of years, and then begin to slowly decline) while the death rate will go down to about 13.0-13.2). Net immigration should remain at about 300,000.

(3) Putin will not be overthrown in a glorious democratic revolution. In fact, things will remain depressingly stable on the political front. As they should!

(4) Currently Russia is one of Europe’s most corrupt countries. While it’s certainly not at the level of Zimbabwe, as claimed in the Corruption Perceptions Index, it’s not like having the Philippines, Romania, or Greece for neighbors on an objective assessment is anything to write home about. I believe that Russia missed a great opportunity to undermine the rotten culture of official impunity that exists there by refraining from prosecuting former Moscow Mayor Luzhkov with his Montenegrin villa, billionaire wife, and his VP Mayor Resin who wore a $500,000 watch following his dismissal in 2010. Today a similar opportunity presents itself with blatant evidence of large-scale corruption on the part of former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and his female hangers-on (see the comments threads here, here at the Kremlin Stooge for details). There are conflicting signals as to whether charges will extend to the very top, i.e. Serdyukov himself. Having incorrectly anticipated a Luzhkov prosecution, I am now once bitten, twice shy. So I’ll take the lame way out and call it a 50/50.

(5) Needless to say, the economy remains as uncertain as ever, and contingent upon what happens in the EU and the world. In the PIGS the economic contraction is finally starting to slow down, but Greece is something of a disaster zone, and Spain is raiding its pension fund to keep afloat. If this becomes unsustainable this year then the EU member states will have to make some fundamental choices: Fiscal union? Or its division into a “Hanseatic” core and Mediterranean periphery? Which of these three things will happen I find impossible to even begin to foretell… As applied to Russia, under the first two scenarios, it will continue plodding along at a stolid but unremarkable pace of 3-4% or so GDP growth; if things come to a head (as they eventually must) and Germany decides to toss the Latins overboard, then the divorce I assume is going to be very, very messy, and we can expect Russia’s economy to fall into recession.

(6) No special insights on foreign policy. Ukraine may join the Customs Union; however, I suspect that’s more likely to happen in 2014 or 2015, as Yanukovych faces re-election and has to make a choice between continued prevarication between it and the EU, and encouraging his Russophone base. The creeping influence of the Eurasian Union will likely keep US-Russian relations cold; whatever the current disagreement that’s talked about (Magnitsky Act; Dima Yakovlev Law; Syria; Libya…) I lean to the “Stratfor”-like position that at heart the US just does not want what it sees as a “re-Sovietization” of the region – which the Eurasian Union is, in geopolitical terms, if under conditions much softer than was previously the case – and will thus be driven, almost by force of instinct, to oppose this trend.

How did I do for 2012?

Here is the link again. In short, this wasn’t the best year for my predictions.

1. “So that’s my prediction for March: Putin wins in the first round with 60%, followed by perennially second-place Zyuganov at 15%-20%, Zhirinovsky with 10%, and Sergey Mironov, Mikhail Prokhorov and Grigory Yavlinsky with a combined 10% or so.I later ended up refining this, and running a contest. My predictions for the five candidates were off by an aggregate error of 14%. The heroic winner was Andras Toth-Czifra (who has yet to get his T-Shirt – my profound apologies dude, it will be done…) Half a point.

2. “I will also go ahead and say that I do not expect the Meetings For Fair Elections to make headway.” Correct, although this was self-evident to anyone not afflicted with Putin Derangement Syndrome (which admittedly doesn’t include 90% of Western Russia journalists). Full point.

3. Here I made general points that I still think fully apply. That said, my own specific prediction turned out to be false. “But specifically for 2012, I expect Greece to drop out of the Eurozone (either voluntarily, or kicked out if it starts printing Euros independently, as the former Soviet republics did with rubles as Moscow’s central control dissipated).” Wrong! I am perhaps foolhardy to do so, but I repeat this prediction for this year. I really don’t know why the Greeks masochistically agree to keep on paying tribute to French and German banks when they know full well they have no hope of ever significantly bringing down their debt-to-GDP ratio without major concessions on the parts of their creditors. Zero points.

4. Last year I made no major predictions about the Russian economy; basically, unexciting but stable if things stay normal – a downswing if the EU goes down, albeit not on as big a scale as in 2008-2009. I was basically correct. One point.

5. “I expect 2012 will be the year in which Ukraine joins the Eurasian common economic space.” Nope. To activate their Russophone base, they decided to go with the language law. Zero points.

6. “Russia’s demography. I expect births to remain steady or fall slightly… Deaths will continue to fall quite rapidly, as excise taxes on vodka – the main contributor to Russia’s high mortality rates – are slated to rise sharply after the Presidential elections.” Too pessimistic on births, albeit understandably so because Russia’s cohort of women in their child-bearing age has now begun to decline rapidly (the echo effect). Although ironically enough however I am one of the most optimistic serious Russia demographers. In reality, as of the first 10 months of 2012, births have soared by a further 6.5% (which translates to a c.8% increase in the TFR, bringing it up from 1.61 in 2011 to about 1.74 this year – that’s about the level of Canada and the Netherlands – while deaths have fallen by 1.5%, implying a rise in life expectancy from 70.3 years in 2011 to about 71 years in 2012 (which is a record). Most remarkably the rate of natural population growth is now basically break-even, with birth rates and death rates both at about 13.3/1000; the so-called “Russian cross” has become a rhombus. Still, considering that my predictions were basically more optimistic than anyone else’s (even Mark Adomanis’), I still feel justified in calling this n my favor. One point.

So, that’s 3.5/6 for the Russia predictions. I will be very brief on the non-Russia related ones, as this is a Russia blog.

7. Wrong, Romney did not win LOL. Although later I did improve greatly, coming 12th out of 66 in a competition to predict the results of the US popular vote. I now owe a few bottles of whiskey to various people.

8. US did not attack Iran, but I gave it a 50% chance anyway. So, half point?

9. “But I will more or less confidently predict that global oil production in 2012 will be a definite decrease on this year.” Too early to tell.

10. “China will not see a hard landing.” Correct.

11. “Record low sea ice extent and volume. And perhaps 100 vessels will sail the Northern Sea Route this year.More like 46 vessels, and completely correct on extreme new sea ice lows.

12. “Tunisia is the only country of the “Arab Spring” that I expect to form a more or less moderate and secular government.” I think that’s basically correct.

13. Protests will not lead to any major changes outside the Arab world – yes.

14. “The world will, of course, end on December 21, 2012.” Correct, we’re now living in a simulation, the real world having ended as I predicted.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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1. For Russian orphans life is much more dangerous in Russia than in America. Let’s agree to disregard the hidden subtext which implies that any country ought to give over its orphans to foreign nationals should it be ranked safer for children. Let’s first examine if the claim that Russia is 39 times more dangerous for adoptees than the US is even true.

This number most prominently featured in a March 2012 article at the liberal website Ttolk, perhaps (probably?) it originated there. It then spread to the rest of the Internet via Yulia “Pinochet” Latynina at the Moscow Times

According to official government statistics, a child adopted by Russian parents is 39 times more likely to die than one adopted by parents in the West.

… and Victor Davidoff at the St. Petersburg Times.

It is also well-known that the chances a child will die after being adopted by a family in Russia are almost 40 times higher than if adopted by a family in the West.

While it’s no great secret that Western countries are safer than Russia, the differential struck me as absurdly high. Especially when I checked mortality rates, according to which on average Russian children have approximately twice the risk of death as do their American counterparts (or the same as the US in 1980). This is pretty much as to be expected, as Russian healthcare despite intensive modernization in the past decade still lags developed country standards.

So we have a paradox: While Russian children are on average are “only” 2x as likely to die as American ones, adoptees in particular are supposedly 39x more at risk. The differential between the two groups is simply too high to be credible.

Thankfully one gelievna had already done most of the work. Here is what the article in Ttolk wrote:

Already for several years semi-official documents cite the following number: Since 1991 to 2006, i.e. over 15 years, there died 1,220 children who had been adopted by Russian citizens. Of them 12 were killed by their own adopters.

During this same period, from 1991 to 2006, there died 18 Russian children in adopting families in the West. Knowing the number of adoptees there and in Russia (92,000 and 158,000, respectively) we can calculate the relative danger of adoption in these two worlds. It turns out that there is one dead child per 5,103 foreign families, whereas in Russian families this ratio is at one dead child to every 130 families. This means that adoptees in Russian families are in 39 times more danger than in foreign ones.

Well isn’t that shocking? Surely a humanitarian intervention is called for to rescue Russia’s children and place them in American homes. The only problem is that the 1,220 figure doesn’t refer to deaths at all. Here is what the original source, a 2005 report, actually said:

In 2005, the Ministry of Education and Science gathered preliminary statistics for the past 5 years on cases of death and incidences of ill treatment of orphans, adopted by Russians or taken into guardianship or a foster family, according to which:

Out of 1220 children, 12 died by the fault of the adopters and guardians;

Out of 116 children, whose health was for various causes subjected to heavy harm, 23 suffered by the fault of the adopters and guardians

So the article at Ttolk is basically comparing apples and oranges, i.e. the numbers of Russian adoptees who died in foreign countries vs. the numbers of Russian adoptees that were ill treated in Russia. Of course the latter figure is always going to be much, much higher.

What concrete findings we have (assuming the rest of the article is accurate) is that 18 Russian adoptees died in foreign countries (of those we know! there is no systemic tracking) during 1991-2006 vs. 12 Russian adoptees died by the fault of their foster parents specifically during 1999-2004 or so.

So while an exact comparison remains elusive we can know be fairly certain that in fact the risk of murder is broadly similar for a Russian adoptee in both Russia and the US. Basically it is (thankfully) extremely rare in both countries. I would also point out that this is far from a “Russophile” or “Russian chauvinist” conclusion, knowing that a lot of Russians harp on about the supposedly everyday shooting rampages in schools all over America. In reality this is just the usual anti-guns hysteria mixed in with Americanophobia, American schools are actually extremely safe with only 1-1.5% of all violent deaths of children occurring on school premises in any single year. (Even a very “catastrophic” event like the Newtown shooting would only raise this by about one percentage point).

This whole episode strongly reminds me of similar cases in the past when some wild figure was misquoted, spread in Russian liberal circles, and then transferred to the West. E.g. an imaginary spike of abortions in the wake of the economic crisis. Or the wild exaggeration of Russian emigration figures.

2. It was a cynical and pre-planned ploy to “punish” the US for the Magnitsky Act. Mercouris has already very elegantly demonstrated why this is the wrong way to look at it so one can do worse than quote him in extenso:

“I gather the Federation Council has now voted unanimously to support the adoption ban. This is a direct result of the campaign against it.

The adoption ban looks to me like an emotional response not just to the Magnitsky law but also to the way in which the original Dima Yakovlev law was first formulated. This very wisely limited sanctions to US officials who have violated the human rights of Russians. By doing so Russia has avoided the ridiculous situation created by the Magnitsky law by not extending its jurisdiction to US citizens whose actions have nothing to do with Russia. Understandably enough someone decided to name the law after Dima Yakovlev, who is not a Russian whose rights were violated but who as a child makes the ideal poster boy for this sort of law. However by naming the law after Dima Yakovlev the whole subject of the mistreatment of Russian children in the US was opened up and someone (Putin?, Russia’s Children’s Ombudsman?, someone within United Russia?) in what was surely an emotional response decided to tack on an adoption ban to the original Dima Yakovlev law. That this was not pre planned is shown by the fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry was until recently busy negotiating the agreement with the State Department to protect Russian children that I discussed previously. I gather this agreement was reached as recently as last month i.e. November not September as I said in my previous comment. It is scarcely likely that the Russian government negotiated an agreement it planned to cancel, which shows that the adoption ban must have been an emotional afterthought.

Since the adoption ban was almost certainly an emotional afterthought that almost certainly had not been properly thought through the best way to defeat it would have been to try to reason the Russian parliament and government and Russian public opinion out of it. The point could have been made that adoption is a private matter, that the number of Russian children abused by their US adoptive parents is microscopically small, that it is unfair on other intended US adopted parents to discriminate against them because of the bad behavior of a very few bad US adoptive parents and that the problems involving Russian children with the US authorities and with the US courts have hopefully been addressed by the agreement with the US State Department, which should be given a chance to work. It could also have been pointed out that the adoption ban sits uneasily with the rest of the Dima Yakovlev law, which is intended to hit out at US officials who violate the rights of Russian citizens and not at innocent US citizens who want to adopt Russian children.

All of these arguments have been lost by the hysterical and hyperbolic reaction to the adoption ban. Thus critics of the law have accused Russian legislators of cynically acting contrary to the interests of children, which unnecessarily offends those Russian legislators who may genuinely have thought that by supporting the adoption ban they were trying to protect Russian children. They have also all but said that Russia is incapable of looking after its own orphaned children, which must offend patriotically minded people generally. They have even come close to insinuating that Russian children are better off being brought up in the US than in Russia, which must offend patriotically minded people even more. For its part the US has behaved equally crassly by using the Magnitsky law to threaten Russian legislators in a matter that has nothing to do with either human rights or with Magnitsky and by apparently saying that the adoption ban violates the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is doubtful but which is also crass if it is true as I have heard that unlike Russia the US is one of the two or three countries which have not ratified it.

The totally predictable result is that the adoption ban has not only been overwhelmingly supported by the parliament and is now certain to become law but Russian public opinion has consolidated behind it.”

3. The law meets fierce population opposition within Russia. Here is what the Guardian writes:

But inside Russia the bill has been criticised by opposition figures as “cannibalistic”, with a petition against the act being signed by more than 100,000 people.

The Western media has spread the idea there is huge grassroots opposition to the Dima Yakovlev law. In addition there has been coverage of a petition floating around the White House to place Duma deputies who voted for the adoptions ban to be placed on the Magnitsky list as “human rights abusers” and denied entry to the US.

This image is however almost entirely false.

Laurie Penny hints at it in the Guardian:

Not all the adopted children thrived, as the populations “back home” are painfully aware. In 2008 Dima Yakovlev, a Russian toddler adopted by Americans, died after being left in a sweltering car for hours. His adopted parents were found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. Russia’s new bill is named after Dima Yakovlev.

Max Fisher in the Washington Post spells it out clearly:

As it turns out, the ban on American adoptions is remarkably popular in Russia. A new Russian survey finds that 56 percent support the ban and 21 percent oppose, a ratio of almost three-to-one. The support seems to stem from a belief that American families are dangerous, cruel, and at times violent to their adoptive Russian children.

Here is the link to the FOM poll. What’s especially noticeable is that a majority of all major social groups support it: 44% of Prokhorov voters; 50% of young people; 48% of people with a higher education; etc.

If one believes that only the scum of the earth like Putin could write the Dima Yakovlev Law, then it would be incongruent not to extend the hatred towards ordinary Russians. La Russophobe is one of the few who gets points for consistency.

4. The Russian government was very enthusiastic about the Dima Yakovlev Law. No, it wasn’t. As Mercouris wrote above, it basically torpedoed months of negotiations with the Americans for Russian officials to get more information about the status of Russian orphans in the US. That is presumably why FM Lavrov was against it as were at least two other Ministers. It was the Duma taking the initiative.

In a further irony, I found an article at the Communist Party website that criticized United Russia for not supporting a similar law back in 2010.

NOTE: The following points are taken pretty much directly from the very разоблачительная article “Orphans Q&A” by gloriaputina.

5. Russia has an inordinately huge number of orphans. The number is 654,355 as of end-2011, however the vast majority are so-called “social orphans” (their parents have been found incapable of parenting). Furthermore, even if a social orphan is adopted, he still remains in the social orphan category. The analogous figure for the US is 3 MILLION.

Ironically, as argued by the blogger, there is an inverse correlation between the rate of orphans and children’s safety. Basically when the state makes children into orphans, the numbers of deaths of children falls (presumably because they are taken away from violent and/or abusive parents). Now yes of course this is not positively good, sometimes there are ridiculous cases, but in Russia at least he is correct in that there is a correlation: As the numbers of parents who had children taken away climbed from 31,000 in 1995 to 53,000 in 2000 and 74,000 in 2008, overall child mortality has plummeted throughout the period (although of course other factors like better healthcare and less alcohol consumption would also play major roles).

Very few Russians abandon their children. They account for 1% of the total number of orphans, vs. 4% both of whose parents died, and 95% “social orphans”.

6. Russians don’t adopt, if there are no kind Americans to take up some of the slack, Russian orphans will be condemned to slow death in state orphanages.

It’s not so much a matter of Russians and Americans not adopting as few people anywhere being interested in adopting children over the age of three. Here is a graph.

In the above graph green represents adoption by Russian citizens, blue by foreign citizens, in 2009. In state orphanages, 90% of children are older than 11 years; 70-80% are older than 14 years. There is a waiting list for adopting children under the age of 3.

7. The majority of Russian orphans have to live in orphanages. Wrong, and this apparently has never been the case.

The yellow bars represent children who are transferred to foster parents (which I think is distinct from “adopted” as in the US), the blue bars represent the numbers of children who are housed in state institutions at any one year. The ratio between the two is steadily increasing and converging to the typical Western model, in which almost all children are taken in by foster parents.

7. Russians only adopt healthy children, while only kind foreigners take those with disabilities. Again, wrong.

30% of the children in the federal database are children with some registered physical disability; the vast majority of them are living with families, only 5% of their numbers live in child institutions.

Now since 1995 about 10% of Russian children adopted by both foreigners in general and Americans in particular were registered as having a disability. In 2011, the US adopted 44 children with disabilities, whereas Russians adopted 188 children with disabilities. In 2009-2011 more than 20,000 orphaned (0-6 age range) children left Russia, whereas as of January 2012, the waiting list for them in Russia was 12,900 long.

8. Russia is alone in being a nasty country that (now) bans American adoptions of children.



In any case adoptions from Russia had been dropping rapidly since 2004 anyway, constituting less than 1,000 by 2011.

There are in fact quite a number of countries that make foreign adoptions very difficult stopping short of outright bans including many in the ECE area. Russia’s ban is the only one the Western media decides to politicize however (although in fairness it’s a two way street given the absurd association on Russia’s part to portray it as a response to the Magnitsky Act).

9. I think that the Dima Yakovlev Law is a good idea. No, I don’t, I’m just clearing up major misconceptions in this post. While there may be valid grounds to much more stringently regulate foreign adoptions (e.g. ensuring all Russians wishing to adopt have the chance to, and ensure children don’t fall into the hands of pimps/organ traders/etc), the decision to only target Americans and to present it as a response to the Magnitsky Act is crude and idiotic, and just one of the many examples of the Russian government shooting itself in the foot PR-wise.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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Keeping up with the Guardian’s stream of textual diarrhea in its Russia coverage is a quixotic task, and one that I do not really have the stamina for (although Alex Mercouris does this remarkably effectively). Still, when it comes to certain issues I’m particularly interested in, such as demography, or China-Russians relations as in this case, I feel pressed to comment.

The main thrust of this article is about comparing the neighboring cities of Manzhouli and Zabaykalsk to make some wider point about the two countries. And the comparison is not flattering to Russia:

Twenty years ago, Zabaikalsk and Manzhouli, which face each other across the border marked by a few strips of barbed wire, were settlements of about 15,000 people. But while Zabaikalsk remains a dusty border town, Manzhouli now has high-rise buildings, an indoor skiing facility, 3D cinemas and a population approaching half a million people. Russians flock to it for the shopping opportunities.

The only problem with this comparison? Zabaykalsk has 12,000 people as of the 2010 Census, whereas Manzhouli has 300,000. Furthermore, Manzhouli had 137,000 people in 1990 to Zabaykalsk’s 9,000 in 1989. Were the Guardian’s fact-checkers hung over from their Christmas celebrations?

But the wider and more important point is that this comparison is beyond absurd. It’s about as valid as comparing the 600,000-strong city of Khabarovsk (which is incidentally a success story; it might not have skyscrapers, but it is picturesque, prosperous, and consistently ranked as one of Russia’s most comfortable and business-friendly cities) with the bordering, 20,000-strong “dusty” village of Fuyuan to “prove” Russia’s superiority over China. I do not, of course, because I am not a propagandist like the Guardian, nor do I have an agenda, nor do I hold my readers in such contempt that they would fail to see the absurdity of apples-to-apples comparisons of cities that differ by an order of magnitude.

Now in all fairness the Guardian’s contempt for its readers is largely justified based on most of the comments. But not all of them. Lost in the scrum of Bear vs. Dragon fantasists (of whom there are far fewer in both Russia and China than in the West) was one comment by “Nobul” that’s well worth reprinting in full:

Let’s get real, stop screaming “yellow peril” and “Russian Far East on a knife’s edge”. There are not many (300,000 according to reputable Russian stats, not 3 million in the scaremongering gutter press) and won’t be many more coming Russia’s way because:
1. China does not have a “massive” population pressure. Its population is growing at a meager 0.5% a year and aging fast. If you followed the news in the last couple of years, there are now a labour shortage across the country. There are no surplus population to “export”.
2. People go where the money is. It is in the rapidly growing cities in China. The Chinese peasants do not want be pioneers in a foreign land as illegal squatters and get one crop a year with no means of guaranteeing profit or property rights.
3. Scaremongers repeat ad nauseum there are 100 million Chinese across the river from 6 million Russians, but fail to mention the population density of Heilongjiang is 80/km2, similar to that of the Ukraine (the UK at 250ish) and just as fertile with its own black earth. Do you expect Ukrainian hordes to invade Russia? The peasants there would rather seek better paid opportunities in numerous Chinese cities where they speak the same language than dilapidated ghost towns of the Far East.

In addition to 1), come to think of it, the Russian Far East is now if anything in better demographic health than North-East China, or Dongbei. According to the latest Census, China’s TFR is at 1.4, and the three major North-East provinces have China’s lowest birth rates outside the major metropolises. Russia’s average TFR is 1.6 as of 2011 and is higher than average in the Far East specifically.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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In 2008, Commissar of Transitionology Michael McFaul and his lab assistant Kathryn Stoner-Weiss wrote: “The myth of Putinism is that Russians are safer, more secure, and generally living better than in the 1990s—and that Putin himself deserves the credit… In terms of public safety, health, corruption, and the security of property rights, Russians are actually worse off today than they were a decade ago.”

Fedia Kriukov already called them out on i t more than four years ago. The “authoritarian model” thesis was factually wrong from the moment it left the printing press (perhaps this wouldn’t have happened if Stoner-Weiss was more interested in getting things right as opposed to obsessing over how “women authors are evidently less important than male authors” and “Putin’s control of the media has spread to bloggers from just TV”).

Today their errors are clear and stark as snowblind, yet the core assumptions of the “authoritarian model” remain largely unchallenged in Western journalism and Kremlinology. Indeed, one of the authors is today the US ambassador to Russia.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Demography, Western Media 
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According to the latest data, in Jan-Aug 2012 there were 1,253,000 births (2011 – 1,171,000); 1,274,200 deaths (2011 – 1,299,800). Therefore, the rate of natural decrease plummeted from 128,800 in 2011 to just 21,200 this year. Bearing in mind that natural growth was about zero for the September-December period last year, this means that even a slight improvement over the next 5 months – that is, about 5,000 less monthly decrease – should finally nullify Russia’s two decades of natural population decrease.

Back in mid 2008 when I predicted that “natural population increase will occur starting from 2013 at the latest” most mainstream demographers would have considered me bonkers. But if anything the prediction now looks likely to be fulfilled one year early.

This would be the first (and only) year that Russia has seen natural population growth as not part of the USSR. The remarkable 7% increase in birth rates this year so far would imply a TFR of approximately 1.75 (2011 – 1.61), or the level of 1991; and the 2% drop in mortality would translate into an increase in the life expectancy from 70.3 years in 2011 to about 71 years in 2012. In terms of European demography, Russia has basically become a normal country.

UPDATE: Demoscope has a huge issue on demographic developments of the first half of the year. The graph below is especially striking.

Deaths from homicides are in red (now lower than for most of the late Soviet period). Transport accidents in blue at record lows, despite there being far more vehicles on the roads today. Suicides in yellow at a record low. Deaths from alcohol poisonings, in green, which to a substantial extent drive all the other deaths from external causes, have plummeted to such an extent that they are now slightly lower than at the height of Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign!

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Demography, Demoscope, Population Growth 
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Currently writing an article on Pussy Riot, but in the meantime, data on the demographic situation as of mid-2011.


/ 1000 people for entirery of 2011


/ 1000 people






2012 relative to 2011 (%)

















Of which children <1 years of age








Natural decrease







In short, strong improvements all round. There is however one problem, and those are migration trends.

In particular, emigration has been rising fast from very low levels since December 2011, and has since plateaued at a monthly 10,000 by March 2012 (when Putin was reelected). The narrative of massive Russian emigration was a myth but perhaps that is no longer the case? Doubt it. Most of the increase in emigrants accrued to the Near Abroad, from 9,000 in 2011 to 44,000 in 2012. I doubt Uzbeks are going back to Karimov in protest against Putin. :) The number of emigrants to the Far Abroad increased much more modestly from 6,000 to 11,000 during the first six months of 2011 and 2012, respectively. The number of emigrants to the US and Canada increased only modestly, while the outflow to Germany and Israel actually fell. In fact in that category most of the increase accrued to China and Georgia who have long provided Russia with net migrants. So hard to make a case that it is ethnic Russian professionals are are now fleeing Putin in massively greater numbers. For the most part, I think the figures now just better reflect cross-border population flows.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Demography 
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Is the question asked by Mark Adomanis in his recent post. If you linearly extrapolate dynamics for the first half of this year to the second (BR +7.5%; DR -1.9%), then yes, it will – as per the graph I’ve stolen from him below.

Adomanis says that making such a prediction back in 2005 would have resulted in him getting dragged off to a lunatic asylum. I avoided that fate, though considering I made said predictions in 2008, it is still fairly impressive.

“Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest.”
“Natural population increase will occur starting from 2013 at the latest.”

And, just for peter:

“The share of Russia’s working age population will peak around 2010 at about 72%.”

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Demography 
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And just as the Guardianistas and K.F. & Co. bury their heads ever deeper in the sand, real world statistics show confirm my thesis from the beginning of this year that Russia’s demographic crisis has for all intents and purposes come to an end. As of May there was a y-y increase of 17% (!) in births, a 2% increase in deaths, and virtually zero natural decrease; accounting for the entire Jan-May period, there was a 7.6% increase in births, a 2.2% decline in deaths (including an 18% decline in deaths from alcohol poisoning), and an overall population decrease of -57,000. However since natural decrease is typically biggest in Jan-May (see graphs here) the rest of the year may well see continuous natural population growth; it is also not beyond the realm of possibility that overall natural population growth, i.e. before accounting for immigration, will be positive in 2012.

Still instead of the usual dry demographic update post I want to do something different here and delve into comparative and historical issues. For instance, now that we can pretty confidently say it has ended, how ultimately “bad” were Russia’s two lost decades?

The Russian population peaked at 148.5mn in 1992. After that it declined at an increasing rate, especially after 1998 when the supply of ethnic Russian emigrants coming back from the Near Abroad dried up; then, in the mid-2000′s, it began to slow as core demographic indicators improved, and Russia started getting substantial numbers of Gastarbeiter. In retrospect stabilization was achieved in 2008, and since then Russia’s population rose for 142.9mn in 2010 to 143.0 in 2011 and 143.1/143.2mn this year. Peak to nadir this was a decline of less than 4% (or in chronological terms, 1985), with recovery already in motion. How does this compare with other transition countries?

The Baltics. Estonia peaked at 1.57mn in 1990 and stabilized at 1.34mn in the late 2000′s according to estimates (decline of 15% and reversal to 1969); however, the 2011 Census showed that the actual Estonian population was 1.29mn (-18%; 1965). Nor was this just the effect of Russian “occupiers” leaving; native Estonians declined to 890,000 versus 963,000 in 1989 (-8%), or 970,000 in 1922 (in other words, the ethnic Estonian population hasn’t grown in a century).

The statistics for the other Baltic states are worse. Latvia declined from 2.67mn in 1989 to 2.07mn according to the 2011 census (-23%; 1958). Again just to show that this isn’t an artifact of occupiers finally leaving the numbers of ethnic Latvians fell to 1.28mn from 1.39mn (-8%), and the current ethnic Latvian population is lower than it was in 1925. However what’s worse is following the global financial crisis Latvia’s demographic situation has become the worst in Europe.

In Lithuania the population fell from a peak of 3.70mn in 1989 to an estimated 3.2mn; however, this estimate was as in Latvia’s and Estonia’s case proved to be far too optimistic by the 2011 Census, which showed a preliminary result of 3.05mn (-18%; 1967).

Ukraine. Declined from a peak of 52.7mn in 1993 to 45.8mn in 2011 (though the Census, which was postponed to 2013, might show a different figure especially if emigration was underestimated as is quite possible). This translates into a decline of 13%, or a reversal to the population level of 1967. While it has shown promising signs of recovery in the late 2000′s its natural decrease of -162,000 in 2011 is higher than Russia’s -131,000 even though Ukraine’s population is three times smaller.

Belarus. Declined from a peak of 10.24mn in 1993 to 9.47mn in 2011 (-8%; 1977). Not bad all things considered. It could have been Ukraine.

Poland. The Polish population peaked around 38.7mn in the late 1990′s (it did not undergo a Soviet-style mortality shock because it is a very alcoholized nation) and since declined to 38.1mn in the late 2000′s before recovering slightly to 38.2mn by 2011 (presumably because of many emigrants coming back). As such the Polish population today is virtually unchanged from 38.1mn in 1990. Nonetheless these results are not based on Censuses and as well saw with the Baltics domestic statistics agencies may well have underestimated Polish emigration post-Schengen. Furthermore with a TFR that is steadily at around 1.3 for over a decade an acceleration in population decline would appear likely.

Hungary. Declined from a peak of 10.7mn in 1980 to 10.4mn in 1990, 10.2mn in the 2011 Census, and an estimated 10.0mn today (maybe lower; we’ll know with the next Census). This is a decline of 4% since 1990, or 7% since 1980. It’s population was last at this level in 1961. Its TFR is currently at a “lowest low” level of 1.24, so for all of Orban’s exhortations, a quick reversal of this trend – evidence for over thirty years now – doesn’t seem probably.

Bulgaria. Declined from 8.98mn in 1988 to just 7.64mn according to the 2011 Census (unlike most countries in this sample, the Census results showed a slightly higher result than predicted). This decline of 15% translates into population levels last seen in 1957. (Counting only ethnic Bulgars you have to go before WW2 to get the same population as now). Fortunately, like Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus (but unlike Poland, Latvia, Romania, and Hungary) the TFR has been recovering in recent years breaking 1.5 in 2009.

Romania. Declined from 23.2mn in 1990 to an estimated by 21.4mn by 2010, this however was far too pessimistic as the 2011 Census showed the actual population to be 19.0mn presumably due to mass emigration post-Schengen. This is a decline of 19% to levels last seen in 1965.

Czechoslovakia. As the richest and most successful of the transition economies, the Czech population has actually risen; it stagnated from 10.30mn in 1991 to 10.2mn in the early 2000′s, however since then it rose to 10.56mn presumably as a result of migration, an overall rise of 2.5% since socialism. Slovakia’s population from 5.27mn in 1991 to approximately 5.44mn by 2011, a rise of about 3%.

Below is a quick and dirty summary:

Peak pop (yr) Pop now Decline (yr) TFR (latest)
Czechia 10.3 (91) 1991 10.56 3% n/a 1.42
Slovakia 5.27 (91) 1991 5.44 3% ? n/a 1.4
Poland 38.7 1998 38.2 -1% ? 1991 1.31
Russia 148.5 1992 143 -4% 1985 1.61
Hungary 10.7 1980 10 -7% 1961 1.24
Belarus 10.24 1993 9.47 -8% 1977 1.5
Ukraine 52.7 1993 45.8 -13% ? 1967 1.46
Bulgaria 8.98 1988 7.364 -18% 1953 1.51
Estonia 1.57 1990 1.29 -18% 1965 1.52
Lithuania 3.7 1989 3.05 -18% 1967 1.55
Romania 23.2 1990 19 -19% 1965 1.3
Latvia 2.67 1989 2.07 -23% 1958 1.14

(?’s next to some of the declines above indicate that the change from peak is calculated from estimates based on the results of Censuses that have been conducted a decade ago and as such may not be accurate, especially in the cases of countries such as Poland which saw a lot of emigration post-Schengen.)

Taking a fairly comprehensive survey of transition countries, we notice that Russia had the fourth smallest decline relative to its peak at less than 4%; only Poland, with a decline of 1% (albeit may rise as its been almost a decade since the last Census; the decade in which they entered Schengen), and the Czech Republic and Slovakia which showed overall population growth since 1991, beat it. What’s more Russia’s current TFR is actually higher than that of all the other countries in the survey and on current trends will rise to 1.70-1.75 this year accentuating the gap even further.

How is it still feasible to talk of “drastic decline“? How is it still feasible to pretend that its demographics are a complete mess? It is not, of course. Not when the trends and figures most indicative of demographic potential are now better than almost all of East-Central Europe, as well as Germany, Japan, and the Mediterranean states.

(Republished from Da Russophile by permission of author or representative)
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Anatoly Karlin
About Anatoly Karlin

I am a blogger, thinker, and businessman in the SF Bay Area. I’m originally from Russia, spent many years in Britain, and studied at U.C. Berkeley.

One of my tenets is that ideologies tend to suck. As such, I hesitate about attaching labels to myself. That said, if it’s really necessary, I suppose “liberal-conservative neoreactionary” would be close enough.

Though I consider myself part of the Orthodox Church, my philosophy and spiritual views are more influenced by digital physics, Gnosticism, and Russian cosmism than anything specifically Judeo-Christian.