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The excellent demographic journal Demoscope has an extensive discussion of fertility trends in Russia. Some of it backs my own views in Demography I – The Russian Cross Reversed? and consequently, the assumptions behind the future demographic projections in Demography III – Faces of the Future.

The issue starts off with 2007: Fertility Year, which notes that from 1999 to 2007 the crude number of births increased by 33% from 1,214,700 to 1,610,100. Furthermore, only 37% of the increase above was due to an increase in the size of the childbearing age segment of the population (the ‘echo’ of the 1980′s baby boom) – the other 63% is due to the rise in the total fertility rate (TFR), which is independent of the population’s age structure by definition. In 2007, these two figures widened to 10% and 90%, respectively. So the common Russophobe argument that recent increases in the birth rate are only due to the current youth bulge is at best only a third valid.

Total fertility rates 1925-2006. From top to bottom - Russia; Spain; Italy; USA; Finland; France; Sweden; Japan.

Total fertility rates 1925-2006. From top to bottom – Russia; Spain; Italy; USA; Finland; France; Sweden; Japan.

After that they give us a standard discussion of comparative Russian fertility history. Although Russia was at the forefront of the demographic transition in the 1950′s and 1960′s, unlike most Western European countries its TFR remained stable and edged upwards in the wake of the new maternal benefits and social guarantees of the 1980′s, peaking at 2.23 in 1987. It collapsed in the face of the socio-economic tsunamis of the 1990′s, reaching a nadir of 1.17 in 1999, albeit there has been an incipient recovery since the new millennium. It has accelerated very recently, reaching 1.41 in 2007. (According to preliminary data, the crude birth rate increased by a further 8.1% in the first nine months of this year, so the TFR for 2008 should be at around 1.5 – far from the replacement level of 2.1, but already in the top half of the industrialized nations).

(Off-topic. It is fascinating seeing how TFR’s correlate to historical eras. Note how Soviet TFR cliff dived during World War Two and the big US fall during the Great Depression and oil shocks, as well as its great recovery during the years of the miracle economy and the Great Moderation. Are we going to see a 1990′s-Russia-style collapse in US fertility in the next decade as the chickens of its debt-fueled hedonism come home to roost?).

(Off-topic 2. Return to Rosstat results for January-September 2008, copied above. Left = 2007, Right = 2008. January, February…September at bottom. Top half are births, bottom half are deaths. Note how whenever the birth rate goes up in the particular month relative to the same month of the previous year, so does the death rate (albeit not by as much) – that is a remarkable and puzzling correlation. Can anyone suggest ideas for why that is the case? NB: This would be understandable if Russia were a Third World country with high infant and maternal mortality, but it isn’t, so I’m at a loss explaining this.)

However, one problem even with total fertility rates is that they overestimate the effects of timing of births. An even more accurate measure of long-term fertility is the average birth sequence (средняя очередность рождения, henceforth ABS), which gives for any one year the mean order of all newborn children (for instance, if women in a previously entirely childless country all decided to give birth in a given year for some reason, the TFR would leap up to a very high level but the ABS would equal exactly one). Looking at these different fertility patterns, it emerges that in the 1980′s, Soviet fertility was not as high as implied by the TFR – not was the 1990′s collapse as apocalyptic as some would have it. Or in other words, many gave birth in the 1980′s because of the social benefits of perestroika and many postponed it in the 1990′s because of the economic crises. The effect on deeper generational fertility patterns was much more modest – a drop of just 0.2 children.

ABS in columns, TFR on the line. The graph shows that Soviet collapse influenced the timing of future births much more than their absolute expected value.

ABS in columns, TFR on the line. The graph shows that Soviet collapse influenced the timing of future births much more than their absolute expected value.

From above we can also see that 2007 was a seminal year not only for its respectable rise in the TFR, but for the fact that for the first time since the post-Soviet stagnation the ABS has begun to rise, increasing from 1.59 in 2006 to 1.66 in 2007. This was due to the increase in second-, third- and higher order births – firstborns as a percentage of all new children declined from 60% (where they had been since 1993), to 55%.

A consequence and cause of the above is that the age of new mothers is increasing since 1993, as couples begin marrying later and postponing children. (Nonetheless, the average age of Russian women at birth is still significantly younger than in Western Europe).

Average age of mother for all births. From top to bottom - Hungary; Germany; Greece; Spain; Italy; Latvia; Netherlands; Poland; Russia (bright red); USA; France; Sweden.

Average age of mother for all births. From top to bottom – Hungary; Germany; Greece; Spain; Italy; Latvia; Netherlands; Poland; Russia (bright red); USA; France; Sweden.

In the 1960′s, when people expected to have many children, the average birth age was around 27-28; but as fertility fell and a bigger percentage of births became firstborns, this figure declined. It rose slightly in the 1980′s (mini baby-boom) and collapsed until 1993, when it began rising again. From 2000, fertility growth has been concentrated amongst women over 30, while it has fallen amongst those under 25. The share of newborns accruing to women younger than 25 years fell from 61% in 1993 to 41% in 2007, while the structure of age-specific fertility coefficients changed in a cardinal way.

Age-specific birth coefficients / 1000 women in Russia.

Age-specific birth coefficients / 1000 women in Russia.

All the above indicate the TFR in Russia will rise substantially in the years ahead as the 1980′s generation have more children in their 30′s than any previous post-Stalin cohort. One can only marvel at the innate prescience of the Middle Scenario in my Faces of the Future projections (“Fertility. 2006: 1.4, 2015: 2.0, 2025: 2.0, 2050: 1.7; age-specific fertility convergence with the Netherlands by 2030″).

After that comes a discussion of Russia’s net female reproduction coefficient (NFRC). It takes into account two things that the TFR doesn’t, at least not explicitly – a) the male-female ratio and b) the female death, pre- and during childbearing age. Although for generation reproduction the TFR is usually quoted as being 2.1, in practice it varies – although that is indeed the case in most modern industrial countries, in underdeveloped and/or traditional societies with high female mortality rates in early years and/or high male to female ratios, the TFR needs to be as high as 2.5, 3.0 or more. This is because a lot of females die before they can procreate more females. The net female reproduction coefficient explicitly takes the two factors above into account – any value greater than 1 ensures long-term population growth, while a value of less than 1 implies impending decline. In the graph below you can see a graph of Russia’s NFRC from 1960 to 2005.

Net female reproduction coefficient 1960-2005. From top to bottom, then right - France; Italy; Great Britain; Russia (bright red); Germany; Spain, USA (white race).

Net female reproduction coefficient 1960-2005. From top to bottom, then right – France; Italy; Great Britain; Russia (bright red); Germany; Spain, USA (white race).

Today all the world’s major industrial nations are not producing enough girls to maintain their current population levels in the long-term. The US as a whole just about makes an exception, although only thanks to the help of high-fertility Hispanics. In Russia, the NFRC has increased since 2005 to 0.67, which puts it above most east-central European countries but significantly below France, Scandinavia and the Anglosphere (albeit in the latter cases their numbers are inflated by the fecundity of first-generation immigrants).

One more thing can be gleaned from the graph above. Russia’s combination of high middle-age mortality rates, one of the earliest demographic transitions and post-Soviet fertility postponement meant that absolute demographic decline set in as early as the 1990′s, whereas the likes of Germany and Japan have only began sliding into them fairly recently. In Germany’s case, since the country has been in a deep sub-replacement rut since 1970 (i.e. for more than a generation), this is an intractable problem, whereas large Russian population decline can still theoretically be avoided. As it stands, however, the natural rate of population decline for Russia’s population, with a NFRC of 0.67, is 1.5% when it reaches equilibrium. Any increases must come from increasing the TFR, as its infant mortality rate of 8.9/1000 in 2007 is already statistically negligible and changing the sex ratio in favor of more girls is unrealistic.

Finally, one more thing I’ve been arguing and that the article confirms – in the long-term, the effect of Russia’s high adult mortality is negligible. Firstly, the main burden of hypermortality falls amongst men, who as a rule don’t reproduce except in very rare circumstances. Secondly, although even death rates amongst women under the age of 40 are unacceptably high in Russia by Western standards, they are nonetheless demographically insignificant. The final nail in the coffin of this theory that hypermortality is Russia’s bane (propagated by Eberstadt, who I’ve criticized here and elsewhere, and not only about this but about his unrealistically high AIDS projections for Russia) is that the improvement in Russia’s infant mortality rates in the 1990′s actually contributed more to the NFRC than climbing female mortality rates (albeit the absolute value in both cases is very small).

An effective method of increasing the TFR is by importing poorer migrants, which tend to have a higher TFR than the host population. During the 1990′s, the indigenous French had a TFR of 1.70, while migrants were much more prolific breeders at 2.16. In Great Britain migrants accounted for twice as many births as their share of the population in 2004. Remember what I said about how the TFR in France, Scandinavia and the Anglosphere is generally a step higher than amongst Russians, Japanese, Germans or other east-central Europeans? Migrants are the answer.

(As I said in previous demographics posts, I am not a big fan of a wide open doors policy and would prefer to sieve migrants through qualifications requirements and/or IQ and cultural compatibility tests. Besides, as the article points out migration does not permanently resolve the problem of declining fertility rates – the second generation typically adjusts its reproduction patterns to that of the host population anyway).

The conclusion cautions against overestimating the success of 2007. Granted, this year saw a cardinal shift in fertility patterns, with the number of every order of births increasing apart from firstborns, which remained constant. On the other hand, the country is still very far from generational replacement levels and carries the risk of simply bringing forward in time births that would have occurred anyway. This is a particularly valid point since the new pro-natal measured introduced in 2007 only affect those who have more than one child, although one would have to put against this the fact that TFR increase amongst older women has already been the pattern since 1993 in any case.

According to a 2007 family policy survey, the government’s increased allocations of ‘maternal capital’ enjoy widespread popular support. However, only 1% of those questioned said they’d certainly have more children than otherwise as a result of those measures, while 8% would consider doing so and 9% plan to do it earlier. A full 81% say that the pro-natal policies would have no effect on their planned number or timing of children. In another poll, the percentage of people saying they plan to have a child in the next three years changed very little between 2004 and 2007. The authors conclude that although a sustained pro-family state policy might raise popular expectation, as things currently stand they see little evidence for a significant demographic effect from these measures.

I for one am of a more optimistic mind. For a start, the first poll is very much flawed – are you really going to say that $10,000 will entice you to have another child, even in an anonymous poll? I don’t think so. People are proud and will answer “no” to this question. They also run counter to a Rosstat study showing that Russia’s planned TFR is at around 1.8-2.0, which would return it to the Soviet-era norm. However, it is possible to agree with them on two things – a) contrary to Russophobe assertions and assorted doomsayers, Russian demography is not apocalyptic – it is in fact currently better than in many east-central European countries (and even comparable to some Anglo-Saxon countries, if you discount their immigrants), according to most measures of longterm demographic viability; and b) one or two years of even seminal improvements are not sufficient to make judgements about the demographic destiny of a country. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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The demographic situation in Russia is usually painted in apocalyptic terms. The Russian Cross – the post-Soviet transition into a world of death without new life – will supposedly preclude it from attaining First World living standards and wreck any Great Power, let alone superpower, pretensions. Is Russia Too Sick to Matter and the Sick Man of Europe, as alleged by Nicholas Eberstadt in two reports in 1999 and 2004, respectively? Are we seeing the Death of a Nation?

To answer these questions, we’ll look at the statistics and trends, and extrapolate into the future under three different scenarios – 1. Stagnation, 2. Improvement and 3. Transformation. In the end we conclude that while the demographic, or rather the mortality, problem is indeed serious, it need not entail pessimism if appropriate measures are taken. Nor will it have anything but a negligible effect on the economy.

First, let us look at the historical trends. Below, I have collated the birth and death rate for Russia from 1959-2008 using data from The Human Mortality Database, Soviet Economic Statistical Series and Rosstat. Subtracting the death rate from the birth rate gives the rate of natural increase.

The rate of natural increase would have closely correlated with overall population growth in Soviet times, since migration either way was small then. The same cannot be said of the 1990′s, though, when there was a large-scale influx of ethnic Russians from the newly independent Near Abroad. While throughout much of the period the rate of natural increase was below -0.5% annually, the population decreased at a much lower rate – indeed, serious decline manifested itself only from around 2000, by which time the flow of migrants had slowed down).

As you can see, the birth rate experienced two transitions – in the early 1960′s and early 1990′s. The fertility rate fell from 2.6 children per woman in 1960 to replacement level (2.1) by the late 1960′s, where it hovered until 1990.

In the 1990′s, it dropped precipitously, to 1.34 in 1995 and reaching a trough of 1.17 in 1999. Since then, there has been a slow recovery up to 1.30 in 2006 and rapid spurt recently. In fact, as contributor Oleg pointed out, this is getting noticed in the Western media – Russia Has First Post-Soviet Baby Boom. A booming economy, state sponsored pro-natality propaganda campaign and a 2007 law that ‘expanded maternity leave benefits and payments, and granted mothers educational and other vouchers worth $10,650 for a second child and any thereafter’, contributed to the fertility rate rising to 1.39 in 2007 and more than 1.50 this year. This is more than the average for the European Union and approaching the United Kingdom.

Is this a sustainable trend? Nicholas Eberstadt doesn’t think so.

The other side of the equation is the fertility level, and Russian fertility is very low these days, although it has crept up over the past five or six years. But it is still down 30-40 percent below the replacement level. Is it feasible to think that Russian fertility will rise to replacement level over the next decade or so? Well if Russian fertility does rise up to replacement level, if it does rise by 50 percent from its current levels, this would be because of change in desired fertility on the part of parents in the Russian Federation. So far I don’t think we’ve seen any big signs of a big demand for more children. Rather, what we seem to be observing is that Russia is becoming part of the rest of Europe with respect to ideas about ideal family size. In the rest of Europe, fertility levels are very far below the replacement level. There are a few exceptions like France’s, which are close to replacement levels, but for the most part, European norms on fertility are one or at most two children as the ideal family size. What drives births in modern, relatively affluent societies, more than any other factor, are parental desires about how many children to have. Unless there is a transformation of Russian attitudes about children, its going to be hard for any kind of program of birth incentives or birth schemes to convince Russian parents to have more children then they see as the ideal.

This is an assumption backed up by the raw data – the chart below shows historic fertility rates from an international perspective, in which Russia appears to plummet into and beneath mainstream European levels since the late 1980′s.

On the other hand, a 2005 Rosstat study, Family and Fertility, challenges Eberstadt’s assumptions about desired fertility in Russia. The average desired amount of children, within favorable economic and social conditions, was 2.24, 2.40 and 1.99 for women, men and 15-17 year old teenagers respectively in Tver oblast, 2.26, 2.63 and 2.15 in Nizhnij Novgorod and 2.33, 2.56 and 2.11 in Marij El. On the other hand, the amount of children people are prepared to have in the present circumstances is substantially lower. Amongst women, men and teenagers, it is: 1.75, 1.87 and 1.72 in Tver Oblast; 1.60, 1.78 and 1.97 in Nizhnij Novgorod; 1.83, 2.05 and 1.92 in Marij El. According to Rosstat, the birth rate in these regions in 2005 was 9.3, 8.9 and 10.5 / 1000 people respectively, which is similar to the Russian average of 10.2 As such, it’s possible to construct the following table. Italics are estimates based on linear extrapolation from other data in the table.

Russian Demographics – Fertility
Real BR Real Fertility Planned Fertility
Desired Fertility
Tver Oblast 9.3 1.18 1.78 2.21
Nizhnij Novgorod 8.9 1.13 1.78 2.35
Marij El 10.5 1.33 1.93 2.33
Russian Federation 10.2 1.29 1.95 2.44

As we can see above, in 2005 there was a gap of 0.65 children between real fertility and planned fertility, and a further 0.5 child gap between planned fertility and desired fertility. A number of points can now be made.

Firstly, the post-Soviet fertility drop had much more to do with transitional shock rather than a values shift. That was to be expected; following the collapse of Communism, the state of women’s rights and education (the two biggest determinants of fertility) remained largely unchanged. While religious influence did increase (for instance, the percentage of people believing in the Life Hereafter rose from 21% in 1990 to 37% in 1999 and 45% in 2008), its extent is somewhat exaggerated – it still needs to be borne in mind that proposals to introduce voluntary Orthodox Christianity courses into schools are contentious and that only a very small percentage of people go to church regularly. Russia remains (thankfully) a secular society.

Secondly, opinion polls indicate that the era of transition is coming to an end. For the first time during the transition period, the majority of people are confident in tomorrow. The year 2007 was probably the decisive tipping point, and it is reflected in the fact that it was then that fertility rates began the rapid phase of their recovery. Seen in this context, the current demographic doubleback is not surprising, since real fertility rates are simply converging with planned fertility rates. Moreover, as the economic situation improves by 7%+ per year and healthcare expands, planned fertility rates will edge towards desired fertility rates, while the latter are inflated even higher by government propaganda.

Thirdly, the current trajectory upwards is not going to last. This year’s January-on-January 12.7% increase and last year’s 8.7 % increase in the number of births is not sustainable and indeed a significant portion of them are due to a one-off increase in the case of previously fence-sitting parents who chose to have another child to get the new benefits package. There is a direct precedent for this – from the early 1980′s, state pro-natality policies increased the fertility rate from 1.9 to 2.2, as shown on the graph, but the effect peaked off by 1987. Nonetheless, I think it is reasonable to assume that eventually, say, by around 2015, the birth rate will settle at somewhere in between 1.7 and 2.1, i.e., coinciding with planned fertility. From then on they will probably again resume their decline, following the European (and pre-reform Soviet) pattern.

Fourthly, fertility rates are not birth rates. This is especially the case for Russia, whose age pyramid resembles a pine tree, due to the demographic heritage of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). As you can see, today there is a relatively large number of women of childbearing age.

However, the transitional shock, coupled with the echos of war, means that the number of women in the 20-29 age range is going to peak by 2013, and then go into rapid decline. By 2020, it will be surprising if the overall birth rate equals today’s. This means that to avoid an intensified resumption of population decline after that period, Russia will have to massively lower its mortality rates. This aspect is covered in Part II.

Alarmist media and certain demented Russophobe bloggers have raised the spectre of Russia becoming a majority Muslim country within the next 50 years. As is usually the case with such sensationalist claims, closer examination clears up the clutter.

Below, I worked out the rate of annual increase for Russians and Muslims and linearly projected both to 2025 and 2050 (note that linear projection in demographics is meaningless – in reality, Muslim rates “merely reflect an earlier stage of development and will ultimately fall”). Even in 2002, the vast majority of Muslim people’s fertility rates were below replacement level and falling fast (i.e. there was a big difference in fertility rates between older and younger women). The main reason absolute birth rates remained high was because Muslims, particularly in the South, still have young populations. Even so, their demographic gains in 1989-2002 were not spectacular. According to the 2002 Census, there were 14.5mn Muslims (I see no reason to trust the 23mn figure given by the head of the Council of Muftis of Russia), of whom 13.0mn were from the largest eleven ethnic groups. Using backwards and forwards linear extrapolation (i.e. 1989-2002 growth rates), I estimate the Russian, Muslim and Neither population from 1989 to 2050. The RF population is the sum of the three.

Russian Demographics – Ethnic
1989 2002 2025
Russian Federation 147.0 145.2 144.4 148.9
Russians 119.9 115.9 109.1 102.3
Muslims 11.4 14.5 22.0 34.7
Neither 15.7 14.8 13.3 11.9

In 1989, Russians made up 81.5% of the population of the RSFSR; in 2002, that figure was 79.8%. In the above scenario, it falls to 75.6% in 2025 and 68.7% in 2050 – Russians remain by far the dominant ethnic group. For a Muslim majority we’ll have to wait well into the next century. Of course, demographically linear extrapolation is a pointless exercise, since Muslim fertility rates will continue falling (as is the experience practically everywhere else), while ethnic Russian rates are likely to rise (as shown above). Nonetheless, the very fact that even with just primitive linear extrapolation we can show that Russians will remain dominant in Russia should shut up the likes of Paul Goble, Islamic fundamentalists and La Russophobe.

Of course, the reason the above people relish the thought of Russia becoming Islamic is because they associate Russian Muslims with their less savoury counterparts in the Middle East. Actually, vodka has long since dissolved away the Koran in Rusia. Tatars, by who make up more than a third of Russia’s Muslim population, are almost as secular regarding Islam as ethnic Russians are to Orthodoxy. Even amongst the Chechens Wahabbism never truly took root, despite the best efforts of Arab mujahideen. As contributor fedia put it, ‘the whole idea of Muslim takeover is predicated on one giant falsification — the substitution of the term “Muslim” for the term “representative of a traditionally Muslim ethnicity”…Absolutely nothing would change in the country if Tatars became the majority, however unlikely that situation is.’

Finally, to demolish one last myth – no, the Chinese are not colonizing Siberia. They come as traders and seasonal workers, make a quick buck, or rather, ruble, and leave. There is little evidence of illegal Chinese settlement in Siberia outside the yellow press.

Now for Demographics II – Climbing out of the Death Spiral(about mortality rates. Third part will be about projections).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
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.