The Unz Review - Mobile
A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media
Email This Page to Someone

 Remember My Information

Publications Filter? Da Russophile
Nothing found
 TeasersRussian Reaction Blog

Bookmark Toggle AllToCAdd to LibraryRemove from Library • BShow CommentNext New CommentNext New Reply
🔊 Listen RSS

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)
🔊 Listen RSS

At least according to Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who is hilariously a Sephardi Jew, i.e. closer to Arabs than Europeans.

Well, all countries have a right to sovereignty over their own borders, and stemming the inflow of illegal African immigrants is perfectly justifiable in Israel’s case. To this end they are ramping up legal sanctions against them.

However, what’s striking is how little flak Yishai got for his White Nationalist-like outburst. When a Russian Federal Migration Services spokesman said immigration was putting the “future of white race under threat” in a BBC interview, he was promptly fired (which was, BTW, the correct thing to do). However, the incident was plastered all over the Western media. But in Israel’s case, in which an actual Minister was involved, the incident was only mentioned on Haaretz and a few blogs.

And in general, Israel gets away with a lot of things that would draw huge opprobrium if done by any other country. E.g., you can be convicted of rape for falsely claiming to be a Jew in a seduction. It imprisons several journalists (unlike, say, Russia) but organizations like Freedom House consider it to be perfectly democratic. Palestinians in the West Bank arguably have it worse than South African blacks under apartheid. At least the latter were left to themselves (“apart”) whereas Israeli right-wing settlers gobble up the best land and sources of water in Palestine.

Of course, begrudging Israel for this is stupid. As is blaming it on an imaginary Zionist conspiracy, as the guys at Stormfront would (for a start, Jews in the US and Israel are very, very different). No, it just speaks to the importance of having a powerful lobby in Washington DC.

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
🔊 Listen RSS

Here’s a sampling of recent headlines from the country that loves to lecture others on freedom of speech and rule of law.

Racist Tube rant woman Jacqueline Woodhouse jailed: A London Underground passenger has been jailed for 21 weeks after she admitted hurling racist abuse at fellow passengers.BBC

Girl gang who kicked woman in the head while yelling ‘kill the white slag’ freed after judge hears ‘they weren’t used to drinking because they’re Muslims’.Daily Mail

Police misused powers during royal wedding, protesters claim. (AK: on preemptive arrests of republicans)The Independent

The hijab has liberated me from society’s expectations of women: Wearing the hijab doesn’t have to be about religious dedication. For me, it is political, feminist and empowering. (AK: What’s worse than a feminist, and a radical Islamist? A feminist Islamist)The Guardian

No 10 guide to changing nappies and baby talk: New parents will be given government advice on changing nappies, breastfeeding and “baby talk” under a multi-million pound initiative to support family life.The Telegraph

UK economy’s fall into recession deeper than expected: Contraction of 0.3%, coupled with more bad news from the eurozone, increases pressure on government to intervene to boost economic growth.The Guardian

Is there any reason, any reason whatsoever, for other countries to listen to Britain on absolutely anything? Flee as quickly as you can possibly can! :shock:

(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
🔊 Listen RSS

There are several ways to influence national mean IQ levels. One is to improve nutrition and education, but vitally important though they are, they suffer from diminishing returns as populations bump up against their genetic ceilings. Another is to promote eugenic policies, or at least policies to mitigate the dysgenic trends that are typical of modern developed societies, but they tend to be ethically questionable and politically unfeasible. The third major lever is the immigration system, but how can we assess whether it’s doing its job of only letting in the people who would be a net benefit to the host country?

In my wanderings through the interwebs, I found that the NCES has an excellent “International Data Explorer” with all kinds of socio-economic data on the tested students of each country that participated in the PISA standardized tests (which correlate closely with IQ). Of particular interest was data on scores broken down by immigration status (native, 1st generation, 2nd generation), which was frankly stunning in the degree to which it confirms various stereotypes and explains why migrants succeed in some countries and live in lawless ghettos in others. See the graph below (click to enlarge).

One thing that immediately leaps out from above is that just as US scores leap upwards (from 496 to about 525, in line with Australia and Canada) once only whites are considered, so do scores in many European states when only natives are considered (e.g. Germany from 510 to 533; Switzerland from 517 to 542; the Netherlands from 519 to 533). In fact, the countries mentioned above and a few others equalize with Japan’s 529, Taiwan’s 534, and South Korea’s 541 (the natives of these developed East Asian societies also score a lot higher than their immigrants, but the overall effect on the national average is modest because migrant children are such a small percentage of their school-age populations). In other words, in the worst affected European countries, immigrants are lowering the mean national IQ (converted from PISA scores) by as much as 3 points.

This might not seem like much, but it is highly significant when bearing in mind the extremely close correlation between national IQ and prosperity. Furthermore, since immigrant populations tend to be highly variant – for instance, Britain has a lot of Poles, who are essentially equal to the natives in cognitive capacity (maybe even superior, once you adjust for the fact that it is better-educated Poles who tend to emigrate), and a lot of Pakistanis, who are far below them. This is a good explanation for the general sense of dereliction one sees (and the crime one is likely to experience) when entering Pakistani ghettos in the UK.

Also note from the graph that there is typically a very high degree of overlap between 1st and 2nd generation immigrant children. The 2nd generation children DO typically perform better, presumably because 1st generation immigrants may frequently have language difficulties and problems with adjusting to a new culture. But the degree of convergence of 2nd generation children to the native mean is modest, despite their transferal to typically far more advanced educational environments. Convergence is almost inconsequential in most European countries like Germany, France, Benelux, Norway, and actually negative in the US (i.e. American 2nd generation immigrant children do worse than the 1st generation).

This second chart shows the IQ gap – derived from the differences in PISA scores – between native children, and children who are 2nd generation immigrants (i.e., born within the country in question). I think that it is more useful to compare the 2nd generation with natives than the 1st generation because their educational environments will have been similar; the language issue will have vastly declined in importance; immigrant population will have taken their first step in “reversion to the mean” in terms of their ethnic group IQ; 2nd generation progeny are far less likely to emigrate back to their countries of origin; etc. So what do we see here?

(1) Australia (2nd generation migrants have +2 IQ points relative to natives) and Singapore (+1), two countries with immigration policies that are cognitively elitist in practice, enjoy immigrants that are superior to the native population and will clearly benefit them a lot.

(2) Canada’s (-2) system is mixed, with many immigrants of both high and low quality. The commentator celtthedog has an explanation that sounds plausible: “… Americans who cite Canada’s allegedly magnificent immigration system that only accepts highly skilled immigrants, need to acknowledge that accompanying this is a refugee programm, which lets in scores of pretty much worthless migrants. Do you really think the hoards of Jamaicans, Somalis, Sikhs and Moslems actually benefit Canada in any meaningful way or were brought in on the basis of skills native-born Canadians don’t have? Canada’s system is 50% good, 50% atrocious.”

(3) I’d have expected the UK’s (-2) immigrants to perform about as badly as in the rest of Europe, but on inspection, it’s in the same boat as Canada. Yes, there are many Pakistani and Black immigrants, but Britain also attracts many well-qualified East-Central Europeans and Asians.

(4) The US (-4) has an idiotic immigration system that penalizes highly-qualified workers while being relatively lax at controlling (inevitably unqualified, lower-IQ) illegals from Central America. But nonetheless, it’s an economic and technological dynamo, and despite policy failures there are still plenty of high-IQ immigrants.

(5) Spain (-5), Italy (-6), Norway (-7), Sweden (-9), the Netherlands (-9), France (-9), Germany (-10) and Belgium (-11) have progressively worse quality immigrants relative to the natives in their countries. (The reason for why the Med countries do “better” than the Teutonic ones isn’t because they have better immigrants, but because their native IQ’s are lower). Unlike the US, they tend to have few highly-qualified immigrants, as English speaking (and typically lower tax) nations like Australia, the US, etc. are more attractive to high-IQ cosmopolitans. What’s more, a big proportion of the immigrants to Europe are Muslims, whose faith and habits conflict with local mores to a far greater extent than Catholic Hispanics clash with the indigenous American culture.

(6) In countries like Dubai, Qatar, Kazakhstan, and Israel, the higher quality of immigrants is presumably due to the fairly low human capital of the host nations themselves.

(7) It is interesting to know that the country with the biggest gap between natives and 2nd generation immigrants for which statistics exist is Mexico (-12), which is known for contributing many low-quality immigrants itself. So the immigrants who come to Mexico are truly bottom of the barrel types, which presumably explains why Mexican border defenses to the south are militarized to an extent that would drive liberals apoplectic if implemented in the US. This, and the lure of El Dorado to the north, probably explains why Mexico itself doesn’t have an immigration problem: Although it might have the worst immigrants relative to its indigenous population, Mexico’s native (421) and national (420) average PISA scores are virtually identical, implying that its immigrants are numerically insignificant.

Immigrants are a matter of both quantity and quality. If immigrants are overwhelmingly low-IQ relative to the host population, but very low in numbers, as in Japan or Mexico, then this isn’t a major concern. If they are are high in numbers, but comparable to the host population, as in Australia, then this isn’t a huge concern either. If they are high-IQ relative to the natives, then it’s typically a boon for the host nation, as with Israel (presumably thanks to Ashkenazi Jews from the former USSR), or the Arab oil states; though a longer-term concern might be the emergence of “market dominant minorities”, such as the Jews in old Europe, or the Chinese diaspora in South East Asia.

However, clearly the worst scenario is when immigrants are both many and far inferior in IQ to the aborigine population, to the extent that the mean national IQ appreciably plummets due to their influence. The final graph is perhaps the most important. It shows the difference between national average IQ’s, and average IQ’s for natives, as derived from the PISA scores. Countries experiencing a net fall in the average IQ relative to the native IQ of more than 2 points include Benelux and the Germanic lands. More modest falls in average IQ are experienced in France, the UK, Russia, and Canada. The gap in the US is only 0.9 – presumably, because unskilled Hispanic immigrants aren’t the worst types can get, and are further counterbalanced by many skilled, high-IQ immigrants from Asia; and also because the native US population already includes Blacks, whereas European countries don’t tend to have sizable low-IQ indigenous minorities. In Norway, where Breivik comes from, the effect is only 0.5 points, and in Greece, where the Golden Dawn party recently put up a good showing, it’s a truly insignificant 0.1 points. I wonder why the strongest anti-immigrant reactions are in countries where the issue isn’t all that significant?

It is not controversial to argue that immigration policies should ideally benefit the host country. Liberal economists in particular argue that for loose immigration policies, especially in the case of countries with rapidly aging populations, so as to arrest the decline of the workforce and pressures on pensions. They tend to view the incomers as a source of labor, rarely accounting for its quality in any detail, let alone considering the long-term social and economic consequences of the mass influx of lower mean IQ populations.

In reality, IQ is closely correlated with any number of highly important things like productivity, criminality, civic-mindedness, welfare dependency, etc. and research is converging on the view that IQ is highly heritable and that different ethnic groups have different genetic IQ ceilings. This is all reflected in the far lower average cognitive capacities of the immigrant populations of Europe, and to a lesser extent, the US and Canada, relative to that of natives. For a long time this view necessarily had to be based on stereotypes, anecdotes, or at best limited regional studies, with the consequence that someone raising these issues ran the risk of being called insensitive to “institutional racism” and various other, largely irrelevant liberal/PC hogwash. The detailed PISA results demonstrate that schoolchild immigrant IQ’s may rise somewhat when they are born in developed nations – the average for all countries on which data is available is a rise of 1.6 IQ points from the 1st to 2nd generation – as they get access to better nutrition and education (i.e. experiencing an accelerated Flynn Effect), and resolve any lingering language issues; but for all that, they remain far closer to the stock from which they came, while convergence to native IQ levels typically remains modest or non-existent.

Just giving it more time, Newspeak, and diversity officers won’t resolve these issues. As it stands, to varying extents, the developed world has decided to just that – stick its head in the sand and pour calumnies – not to mention the occasional prosecution for “hate speech” – on dissenters such as Thilo Sarrazin.

The PISA 2009 data in full.

National Native 2nd Gen 1st Gen
Shanghai 577 589
Hong Kong 546 557 554 520
Finland 544 549 464
Singapore 543 550 558 552
South Korea 541 544
Japan 529 535
Canada 527 533 519 521
New Zealand 524 532 497 524
Taiwan 519 534
Australia 519 521 533 521
Netherlands 519 533 471 469
Liechtenstein 518 539
Switzerland 517 542 479 465
Estonia 514 524 479
Germany 510 533 463 458
Belgium 509 525 453 448
Macao 508 514 511 508
Iceland 501 505 426
Poland 501 503
Norway 500 504 456 441
United Kingdom 500 508 495 467
Denmark 499 509 441 421
Slovenia 499 513 455 422
France 497 508 445 429
Ireland 497 503 473
United States 496 502 474 481
Hungary 496 497
Sweden 495 505 447 417
Czech Republic 490 498 451 487
Portugal 490 493 467 460
Slovak Republic 488 495
Austria 487 508 437 407
Latvia 487 489 469
Italy 486 491 449 414
Spain 484 493 461 427
Luxembourg 482 510 447 457
Lithuania 479 486 459
Croatia 474 476 463 453
Greece 473 474 449 415
Russia 468 477 447 452
Dubai, UAE 459 395 467 503
Israel 459 456 470 447
Turkey 454 451
Serbia 442 443 467 446
Chile 439 437
Bulgaria 432 437
Uruguay 427 428
Romania 426 429
Thailand 422 422
Mexico 420 421 344 331
Trinidad & Tobago 413 417 427
Montenegro 404 403 425 405
Jordan 402 402 418 418
Brazil 401 399 323
Colombia 399 394
Kazakhstan 398 402 431 373
Argentina 396 398 365 359
Tunisia 392 387
Azerbaijan 389 403 392
Indonesia 385 378
Albania 384 388
Qatar 373 339 389 452
Panama 369 378 394 328
Peru 368 370
Kyrgyz Republic 325 333
(Republished from by permission of author or representative)
🔊 Listen RSS

Sergey Zhuravlev is a Russian economist who runs a wonky but eminently readable and very useful, interesting blog and writes for Expert (author profile), which I may add is an excellent publication. You have met him previously on my blog as the inventor of a clever – if, in my opinion, flawed – argument that the 2011 Duma elections were marred by 5%-6% fraud, but were clean in Moscow; and if you read the Russia blogs, you may also have come across Mark Adomanis’ translation of one his articles about Russian regional inequality. Now I am presenting a translation of his Feb 13 article on what I called as the end of Russia’s demographic crisis: The Reversal of the Russian Cross. In my opinion, it has a few weaknesses; in particular, he is too cavalier about dismissing the “alcohol hypothesis” about post-Soviet Russia’s “supermortality”. But overall it is a brilliant and deeply informative survey of the origins of the Russian Cross – the crossover of the births and deaths graphs in 1992 – as well as of its recent reversal, to the extent that natural population decline is now almost stabilized and the overall population is able to grow due to net migrants.

The Reversal Of The Russian Cross

Last year our country’s population increased, for the first time in 20 years. Although positive growth in aggregate was only enabled by immigration from the Near Abroad, existing trends in rising fertility and falling mortality were maintained.

If we are to go by Rosstat’s figures, in the past year Russia’s population – for the first time in virtually the entire twenty years of Russia’s existence as a sovereign state – increased, exceeding 143 million people. The maximum population size was reached in 1992, at 148.56 millions, and has since decreased at a practically monotone rate. That said, it should be added that small population growth was previously observed in 1994 and 2009, and that the population fall in 2010 was, most likely, explained by cumulative errors over the period since the 2002 Census, and by the abnormal mortality during that summer’s heatwave [AK: There were c.56,000 excess deaths during the anomalous 2010 heatwave, which is basically equivalent to population decline of 48,300. Furthermore, the 2010 Census showed there to be 143.9 million Russians, which was one million higher than projections based on the 2002 Census; this implied that during the period, net immigration was underestimated by more than 100,000 per year. So its likely that even despite the heatwave, Russia's population still eked out an increase in 2010].

Caucasian Mountains only bested by Urals Mountains

The aggregate growth in our country’s permanent population was 165,000 for the past year [AK: This was a preliminary estimate that seems to have discounted December's migration stats; the final figure is population growth of 189,000]. Although overall positive growth is only enabled by migrants – net immigration is estimated at 296,000 for this year – the rate of natural population decrease continued to decline at a fast pace. Whereas in 2005 there were 828,000 more deaths than there were births, this past year it declined to 131,000.

Russia’s population is substantially affected by the effects of migration from the former Soviet Union. In the 22 years after 1990 – the year when ethnic problems in the former USSR exploded – some 7 million people have moved to Russia for permanent residency. This figure is in net terms, accounting for reverse flows from Russia, and discounting temporary labor migrants. Although net population outflow from Russia into countries of the Far Abroad constituted 80,000 annually throughout the 1990′s – in total, 1,050,000 Russians have officially moved into countries of the Far Abroad for permanent residency since 1990 – it has practically ceased from 2006 [AK: The Far Abroad is the world outside the former USSR, minus the Baltics and (recently) Georgia. Note also that Russia's "brain drain" came to a dripping halt at precisely the time when hacks in the Western media began to propagandize it].

Russia hosts the world’s second largest migrant population, after the US; it slightly exceeds Germany in this respect, and doubly so the next five largest migrant centers: Saudi Arabia, Canada, Great Britain, Spain, and France. A third of Russia’s migrant inflow from 1990 to 2010 from the former Soviet bloc accrued to Kazakhstan. But in the noughties Kazakhstan ceded leadership as a source of migrants to Uzbekistan, and after the Orange Revolution Ukraine caught up with them, and Kyrgyzstan after the Tulip Revolution [AK: Zhuravlev has a separate blog post noting that emigration waves typically accompany revolutions in the former Soviet space. I guess its something to look forwards to if the White Ribbon crowd seizes power.]

The only former Soviet republic with which Russia has had a negative migration balance these past 21 years – in which more people left than came in – is Belarus. That said, it should be noted that starting from 2005 the migration balance with Belarus too has turned positive, albeit it remains modest (net immigration from Belarus constitutes less than 8,000 people over the past six years). It is unclear why more people left for Belarus before this date; perhaps because the Russian provinces neighboring Belarus, such as Belarus, aren’t exactly the richest ones. Maybe it was tied to family reunification – parents returning to their children, or Belorussians returning to their homeland, for instance from Komsomol construction projects. Perhaps for this same reason Russia had a net outflow of migrants into Ukraine in the very early 1990′s.

As regards internal migration, the statistics do not reveal any special revelations that could refute or even complement intuition. There are three main destinations for internal migrants: The city of Moscow and Moscow oblast (in the past year the entire agglomeration absorbed 125,000 people, or three quarters of Russia’s population growth), and St.-Petersburg (33,000 migrants in the past year). There is also substantial migration into the Southern Federal District (in significant part from the neighboring North Caucasus) and into the Urals Federal District.

An important caveat is that in the two latter cases, population growth carries an exclusively point-like character. In the Urals Federal District, it is almost entirely concentrated around Tyumen oblast, the richest province in Russia today. Due to the high levels of social support in Tyumen oblast, fertility is also high: Young families get generous housing benefits, there are special programs for families with children. On its part the situation is similar for the Southern Federal District, which grows entirely thanks to Krasnodar krai, which is also understandable: Sochi.

It is clear that Russia’s demographic situation has improved in substantial part on account of the Northern Caucasus, where a strengthening baby boom started from about 2005. The other more or less demographically balanced Russian region, experiencing positive natural population growth, is the Urals Federal District thanks in turn to Tyumen. But contrary, perhaps, to popular belief, the Northern Caucasus isn’t the main source of migrants to the Central Federal District. In 2010, the most recent year for which internal migration data is available, only 16,000 people from the North Caucasus got permanent residence in the Center. This is but a drop in the ocean to the 19 million population of the Moscow region.

The biggest “donors” to the Moscow agglomeration are the Center itself and the Volga Federal District. These two regions, which constitute the primordial Russia as it developed in the 16th-17th centuries, experience not only the maximum natural population decrease in Russia but also the maximum mechanical loss of population, which in its turn is getting fairly intensively replaced by migrants from Central Asia (and in Siberia, apparently, from China [AK: Here I disagree with Zhuravlev. While there are significant numbers of Chinese labor migrants and shuttle traders in the Far East, very few of them choose to stay. This is not the case for Central Asians.])

Wartime Losses in Peacetime

Russia’s natural population decrease has declined as a result of a significant improvement in mortality, as well as a modest increase in fertility. The fall in mortality, just as its rise earlier in the 1990′s and early 2000′s, for the most part affected men, and substantially affected their expected life expectancy. From a remarkably low level for a civilized country of 58.9 years six years ago (the minimum was 57.4 years in 1994) it has now improved to 63.6 years. This is still far from a result to write home about, but at least it is now almost equal to the best Soviet-era indicators in the early 1960′s and late 1980′s. As for mortality among under 40′s, which has always been the scourge of Russian men, the current curves are even better than the Soviet ones (granted, the share of men living to 35-40 years is now higher mostly thanks to significantly lower infant and child mortality rates).

The phenomenon of “supermortality” from 1991 to 2009 – the 6.24 million excess deaths in the past 19 years, of which 3.2 million accrue to the 1990′s, that would not have occurred had age-specific mortality rates remained fixed at 1990 levels – has yet, in my opinion, to be endowed with a rational explanation [AK: This is the weakest point of Zhuravlev's essay. Yes, there is a rational and very convincing reason: Alcohol. There is a very close correlation between alcohol consumption and mortality since the late Soviet period, when an anti-alcohol campaign reduced consumption and improved life expectancy, to local peaks in consumption - and mortality - around 1994 and the early 2000's, to the past few years, when mortality reductions have occurred in lockstep with less boozing. There are similar correlations between alcohol consumption and mortality by geography, sex, and socio-economic sex; see the evidence here.]

Despite the hugeness of the number itself. It is equal to or even exceeds the “supermortality” caused by collectivization, is almost an order of magnitude greater than the number of victims of the Great Terror, and has the same order of magnitude as the rear losses of the USSR during the Great Patriotic War.

Falling living standards? This fit the maximum in 1994, but not the second local maximum in 2003, when normality was returning. And on the whole, while living standards fell during the transition period and reattained Soviet levels only in 2003-2005, the depth of the fall was nowhere near deep enough to explain this “supermortality” as during the war years with reasons such as malnutrition, poor sanitation, and the unbearable conditions of mobilized labor. The “supermortality” of the past twenty years carried some war front characteristics: Excess mortality among males from 25 to 44 years of age in percentage terms relative to Soviet norms was maximal, at 57%. As if Russia had a war.

To this day another very popular explanation is the “alcohol hypothesis.” Booze became more accessible, people got more free time on their hands, and parasitism was no longer a jailing offense. It is probable that more accessible spirits, and especially drugs – which were little known in the USSR – played their role. However, during the period, people didn’t start to buy fewer spirits; it remained at a constant 9-10 liters of ethanol per capita annually (the contribution of homemade moonshine is purely evaluative, often they add on about 10 liters of ethanol per capital, but who’s doing the counting?).

Be that as it may, the reduction in external (“non-natural”) causes of death in the past few years was very significant and was visibly faster than the reduction in mortality from all other causes. For instance, if aggregate mortality declined by 2.9% in 2011, for non-natural causes – homicides, suicides, alcohol poisoning – it fell by 9%-17%. Albeit, mortality from traffic accidents did increase by 1.3%.

The causes for this reduction in “non-natural” mortality should probably not be sought for beyond rising living standards. Especially revealing in this context is a comparison between large megapolises, especially Moscow, with the rest of Russia. In the capital, the numbers of murders and suicides, not to even mention alcohol poisonings by counterfeit vodka, are many times lower – by up to five to ten times lower – than in the rest of the country.

In aggregate drunkenness, banditry, the increasing number of auto accidents, and the war in Chechnya explain much less than 100,000 of the annual number of abnormal deaths, which in some years have reached up to 600,000 in the past decade. Furthermore the rise in mortality also affected women, albeit to a lesser extent, for whom the chances of meeting one of the deaths described above are much less characteristic.

The melancholy arising from a career loss is surely an important factor, especially when it comes to people near the end of it. But then its unclear why mortality increases afflicted 25 year old youths; there are cases of suicide even among party and Komsomol activists of this age, even though they fit perfectly into the new capitalist economy.

The mere fact of the demise of the state of “Kuzmich” could hardly have caused such an overpowering depression, as to invoke the desire to end it lethally [AK: Кузьмичи refers to a person who grew up on Soviet kitsch and later became disillusioned by it, but was forced to continue living the lie to retain his power. This cynicism and obscurantism described the Soviet nomenklatura by the 1970's-80's.] To be honest, it was sooner the other way round: They had annoyed everyone by then. One final consideration: We may be dealing with a statistical artifact from Soviet times. It’s well known that to a Soviet economic statistics were just rubbish to a significant extent. Is it possible that similar techniques were applies to mortality statistics, even though its more difficult? [AK: I very much doubt it, not only because falsifying demographic stats is more difficult but because the picture they reveal is damning nonetheless: Stagnant life expectancy (an overall decline for men) and an infant mortality rate that actually, unique among industrialized countries in peacetime, that actually increased under the late Brezhnev period.]

Girls, Ask your Girl Friends

The shifts taking place in fertility were no less interesting. In the 1990′s, the quantity of children per woman younger than 25 years nearly halved. This decrease barely affected older women; however, because it was specifically “youth fertility” that was high in the USSR, the aggregate result was dramatic. The total fertility rate (TFR) – the number of children a woman can expect to have in her lifetime – fell from 1.89 children in 1990 to 1.16 (!) in 1999, which is, of course, very far from level required to assure population replacement. Although the noughties observed an increasing TFR on account of more births among older women – in 2009, the TFR reached 1.54 children – the total “shortfall” of births from the reduction in “youth fertility” during the 1991 to 2009 period consisted of 11.292 people.

Up until 2007, the influence of these changes on the crude birth rate – the numbers of births per 1000 people – was slightly offset by the increase in the numbers of women in their childbearing age.

In the graph below, it is clear that in this indicator, adjusted for changes in age-specific mortality, was actually growing in the 1990′s and the first half of the 2000′s. This is not surprising, as fertility was mostly formulated on account of women born in 1975 or younger, when we had a repeat demographic spurt (an echo of the baby boom of the 1950′s). After 2007, the crude birth rate is starting to be affected by the echo of its own collapse in the 1990′s and by population aging. That is why the birth rate has remained almost flat since that year, despite the number of children per woman markedly increasing. This “echo effect” is going to influence fertility in the coming decade, since women from the small 1990′s cohort will be reaching child-bearing age.

It is difficult to say with certainty what caused this fertility shift towards women of greater age. In the Soviet period, a significant contributory factor to early childbearing was that it was figured as a condition for registration for the provision of housing. Apparently, postponed childbearing was enabled by growing income inequality (as a result of which, women began to take more care in choosing a mate, with economic factors playing a significant role in the process), new opportunities for international migration, or something else.

It’s clear that under the Soviet Union, the presence of kindergartens, schools, the Constitution’s guarantee – which was more or less followed in practice – of free housing constituted significant social supports, which enabled high fertility rates. One can also add that many Soviet cities – maybe, all of them – were developed like a “company town”, with social and housing infrastructures closely tied to the town-forming enterprise. When markets were introduced, and it became clear that nobody wanted so many tractors or so many tanks and the revenues of these enterprises dried up, all this infrastructure were left hanging in thin air. There was nothing left to finance the kindergartens and nurseries, no funds to build housing. And the destruction and uncertainty, of course, also influenced decisions on having children.

The economic stabilization of the 2000′s, and especially the new social support measures introduced in 2006-2007 – maternity capital, credit programs, etc. – launched a “delayed fertility” effect, a shift of births towards older women. In general fertility has matured, albeit one shouldn’t exclude the possibility that further concerted efforts to provide social support for families and children will return TFR back to Soviet levels. In any case, more than half of the movement back is already behind us.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
🔊 Listen RSS

I will have a much longer and detailed post on this in the future, with new projections, but this breaking news (at least as far as it comes with dry demographic statistics) so I can’t refrain from writing a preliminary post on the matter.

For all intents and purposes, Russia’s demographic crisis – the infamous “death spiral” afflicting it for much of the post-Soviet period – is at an end.

Here is a summary of the preliminary data for 2011:

1. The population increased by 189,000. The rate of natural decrease, deaths minus births, is now at a mere 131,000; for comparison, it was consistently within the 700,000 to 1,000,000 range from 1993 to 2006. This was more than balanced by an uptick in net immigration, which rose to 320,000 this year. (This has not stopped the hackish Western media from slobbering on about Russia’s “brain drain” at just the precise moment in time that it finally came to a complete halt).

2. Births continue to rise, with Total Fertility Rates reaching 1.57 in 2010 and 1.60 in 2011. This is marginally higher than the EU average (1.59 in 2009), and similar to Canada (1.67 in 2009) and to Estonia (1.62 in 2009), which was the majority-Christian nation least affected by the demographic crisis after the Soviet collapse. Life expectancy is still dismal by industrialized country standards but is immeasurably better than before, having increased to 70.3 years in 2011. Russians have never lived longer; the previous two peaks were in 1964, at 69.9 years, and in 1986-87, at 70.0 years.

3. The structure of mortality has improved a lot, with fewer Russians dying from external causes (the bulk of which, in its case, are caused by drunkenness). Suicides, homicides, and deaths from alcohol poisoning are all now below the levels of 1990, the last year of Soviet “normality.” They are still far above the levels they should be but I am confident they will continue to improve as the effects of excise taxes and regulations causes alcohol culture to transform into the more reasonable forms seen in the US and Western Europe.

4. Because the immigrant population was previously under-counted, the most recent Census revealed the population to be 142.9 million as opposed to the projected 141.9 million. With the growth this year, it is now at 143.0 million.

4. Let me take the opportunity to remind the reader that I predicted this all. Hardly anyone else did. Back in mid 2008 I wrote: “Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest” (back when all the agencies and Big Name Experts were expecting unrelenting decline). I was 100% correct. The population was already growing by 23,000 in 2009. It did dip by 48,000 in 2010, but this was due to the chaotic effect of the heatwave and an unexpected decline in net immigration; this year, it more than made up the difference by growing for 2010 (and even 2008). My models were if anything too conservative on life expectancy. Even the most optimistic only broke the (unprecedented) 70 years barrier by 2012-13, but as of 2011 it was already at 70.3 as mentioned above.

5. For those smart-ass commentators who are going to talk about the “echo effect” of declining birth rates as women from the diminished 1990′s cohort come of age, please note that:

(A) The purpose of this post is primarily to avail readers of the latest developments, which have barely even been covered by the Russian media let alone the likes of Eberstadt.

(B) This effect is implicitly addressed in my models. I’m not going to argue with you on this until or unless you first read this post (which describes my models) and this discussion.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
🔊 Listen RSS

It is now increasingly evident that Russia’s population has settled on a small but decidedly firm upwards growth trend. I have been vindicated.

According to the latest data, in the first eight months of the year births fell by 1.4% (12.5/1000 to 12.3/1000) and deaths fell by 6.2% (from 14.6/1000 to 13.7/1000) relative to the same period last year. The rate of natural population decrease eased from -198,3000 to -128,800. The big fall in the death rate is due to two factors: (1) the continuing secular increase in life expectancy, due to decreasing alcohol consumption and more healthcare spending; (2) specific to 2011, the “high base” effect of the mortality spike during the Great Russian Heatwave last year.

This natural decrease was more than compensated for by 200,255 net migrants during the same period, making for a population increase of 71,500 this year to August. This more than cancels out the population decrease of 48,300 for the whole of 2010, and let it be reminded that it rose by 23,300 in 2009. In other words, in stark contrast to the avalanche of doom-mongering articles that continue to be written in the Western press about “dying Russia” – of which two of the most egregious examples are this and this – the reality is that today in net terms Russia’s population is now larger than it was in 2009.

At this point an important methodological point has to be made. This year, Rosstat switched to only accounting for immigrants who “register at the place of residence” in their population updates, as opposed to the previous method of accounting for anyone who enters the country with a permit to stay for a year or more. The former number is much smaller than the latter: whereas there were the aforementioned 200,255 net immigrants by the old method, Rosstat’s registration method only shows 68,822 (with the result that Rosstat says that Russia’s population actually decreased by 60,000 in the first eight months of this year). However, as Sergey Slobodyan (a frequent guest blogger here) noted at the JRL, this was an opaque and rather bizarre switch. For a start, even using the first method in the years before 2011, which gives far more emigrants than the by residency method, Rosstat still under-counted the numbers of migrants in Russia by one million – the 2010 Census showed there to be 142.9 million Russians, as opposed to the 142.0 million estimated by Rosstat on the basis of projections from the 2002 Census. And even on an intuitive level, doesn’t it seem obvious that far from every migrant to Russia will immediately bother (or be able to afford!) registering at a place of residence? Slobodyan speculates that the reason the new methodology was adopted was because of nationalist tensions over immigration levels in the run-up to the upcoming elections, which may have pressed the Kremlin into pressuring Rosstat, at least for the time being, into purposefully under-counting immigrants; hence the unexplained switch in methodology.

Particularly encouraging in the statistics for this year is that “mortality from vices” continues to fall very rapidly – things such as homicides, suicides, poisonings, etc., that have a much higher than average negative impact on life expectancy (because people who die those deaths tend to be younger) and the social problems they are typically associated with. Note that all of these figures are already lower than in 1990, the last year of Soviet normality (more or less). The same trend can be seen for deaths from accidents. Now to be accurate these death rates are still very high by global standards: whereas Russia’s total numbers of deaths from “external causes” (suicides, homicides, accidents, etc.) was 134 / 100,000, thus dipping below the levels of 1990, it is still far from the 40 / 100,000 types of figures in countries like Australia. No-one doubts that there is still a lot of work to be done on the health and safety front.

Predictably, none of this gets mentioned in the Western media, which is still replete with tropes about the mass emigration of Russia’s middle classes (debunked here multiple times), non-existent population collapse, and citations of outdated CIA World Factbook figures which are cited in lieu of official Rosstat ones. To the contrary, the population has stabilized, and the “brain drain” is now a mere trickle (only 400 Russian R&D specialists emigrated abroad for an undefined amount of time in the first half of 2011, which is a drop in the ocean besides its population of 143 million). Meanwhile, they have missed the true demographic apocalypse that is occurring not in Russia itself, but in one of its neighbors, Latvia, long lauded as a pro-Western and economically liberal “Baltic tiger”: almost as many people are now leaving Latvia every year as leaving Russia. But Latvia’s population is 75 times lower!

S/O, vindicated

Three years ago, based on my own demographic models, I predicted that Russia’s demographic future will be either one of stabilization, or slow population growth. In late 2009, I wrote that even under undemanding assumptions, “the population size will remain basically stagnant, going from 142mn to 143mn by 2023 before slowly slipping down to 138mn by 2050.” This was highly counter-consensus, even scandalous, at the time, given that the debate was dominated by the likes of Nick Eberstadt and most of the main demographics agencies believed a decline to the low 130 millions was likely by 2025. For instance, in the professionally titled Spring 09 article Drunken Nation, Dr. Eberstadt wrote: “UNPD projections for the year 2025 range from a high of about 136 million to a low of about 121 million… The Census Bureau’s projections for the Russian Federation’s population in 2025 are 128 million.”

Now the big demographics agencies are recognizing that things have fundamentally turned around. For instance, in its most recent 2011 World Population Data Sheet, the PRB’s Medium forecast for Russia’s population in 2025 is now 139.0 million. In the 2010 Revision of the World Population Prospects by the UN Population Division has Russia’s population falling to 139.0mn in 2025, with the High forecast being 144.5mn in 2025. Russian statistics agency Rosstat forecasts 140.9 million in 2025, the High version being 146.7 million (note that they still use the base population of 142.0 million for this estimate, not the 142.9 million revealed by the recent Census; in reality, once this is accounted for, their 2025 would logically be by a million bigger).

Whither now? I believe the current Low scenarios, envisaging a drop to the low 130 millions by 2025, have become very unlikely – they assume that many of the trends we see today, such as falling mortality, and net emigration, almost completely stall. In the light of the government’s campaign against excessive alcohol drinking – the primary cause of Russia’s high mortality rates – and the historical successes that tend to accompany such campaigns (e.g. Karelian Finland in the 1970′s and 1980′s), not to mention the more recent Baltic experience; as well as continued economic growth that will enable more resources to be diverted to healthcare and for consumers to pursue healthier lifestyle choices; means that life expectancy will continue rising relatively quickly. Meanwhile, as long as there remains a substantial income gap between Russia and the Caucasus and Central Asia, immigrants will continue to come. Some commentators have argued that fertility convergence in those regions will reduce the number of potential migrants to Russia in the years to come. Perhaps. On the other hand, as Moldova and the Baltic nations show, even being in demographic straits of their own does not necessarily lead to diminishing supplies of emigrants from economically-behind countries.

The above graph is a set of Low, Medium and High projections from Rosstat in 2000, with the High version (green) being a stabilization at 142.7 million people in 2011. As one can see, the mere fact that Russia’s population is at 142.9 million is a surprise to the upside as viewed from a decade ago. If things go well – the economy continues growing, mortality rates keep falling, etc. – then it is entirely possible that Russia’s population will follow today’s mainstream High projections (144-147 million) or even surpass 150 million (as in my original High projection) by 2025.

EDIT: This article has been translated into Russian at (Российская демография: развенчивая мифы).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
🔊 Listen RSS
Alas and alack, there's only so many grants for foreign "intelligents" at Western think-tanks.

Alas and alack, there’s only so many grants for foreign “intelligents” at Western think-tanks.

If I had a cent for every Russia story from the past week that featured the (conclusively debunked) “sixth wave of emigration” meme…

And if wishes were fishes. Still, the coverage of Russian reactions to Putin’s return does demonstrate the venality and general fecklessness of the Western MSM. As Adomanis correctly noted, it is “negative value added” – you come away from reading them understanding less than you did before.

But let’s for a moment ignore that all the demographic statistics indicate that emigration is currently at very low levels, having flattened out in the late 2000′s and stayed down since. Let us ignore the much bigger levels of immigration – and not only from Central Asia or the Caucasus, but the fact that the migration balance even with many “developed countries” is beginning to turn positive.

Instead, let’s ask ourselves two different questions: what kinds of Russians are actually willing to migrate, and where would they go?

Putin Derangement Syndrome

Well, an inkling of the answer to the first question can be gleaned just from reading the comments of emigres to be, and the places where they discuss it. For instance, here is one comment – not at all atypical – from this post “What did Putin do to me?” at (a social network for wealthy Russians that, unlike Facebook, you actually have to pay for):

I began to go to Russia regularly, 2-3 times a year in 1994. I liked everything. How the country was changing, becoming a part of the modern world, how the people, my friends, were waking up from the lethargic, swamp-like stagnation of the Soviet era and opening their eyes to the modern world. I liked the informality and disorder of the Russian government: the Russian state was always far too powerful, and its weakening could only be welcomed. Other power centers appeared. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, for instance, opened a fund called “Open Russia.” The name itself was priceless.

On returning to NY from Moscow and sharing my observations… Elderly Russian Jews shook their heads in dismissal and answered my youthful enthusiasm thus: “Remember, nothing good will ever come out of that country.”

I laughed at them, dismissed them. They didn’t understand that today is different and everything is changing, and they answered: “Yes. Changing. But remember… nothing good will ever come out of that country.” I shook my head and stopped the pointless conversation with these stupid old people. I blame Putin most of all for now having to stand in shame before those (now mostly deceased) wise old Jews, and eat my hat.

One question: does this sound like someone representative of ordinary Russians? In contrast to twats flying in from NY, practically all Russians who actually lived there consider the 1990′s to have been utterly disastrous. In particular, 1994 saw the nadir of several indices – falling economic output, life expectancy, the beginning of a corrupt and unsuccessful war in Chechnya. And this freak – I’m afraid there’s no other word for him, gloating at government dysfunction which directly resulted in pensioners and state workers not being paid for months on end and criminal mafias ruling the street- paints this year as the high point of Russia’s development.

Needless to say, his views don’t represent about 99.99% of Russians.

A Spade is a Spade, and Liberals are Fascists

Because an unknown Euro blueblood is so much more legitimate than an elected President with 70% approval ratings.

Because an unknown Euro blueblood is so much more legitimate than an elected President with 70% approval ratings.

Now what about that Pora Valit website, featured by Western journalists as the voice of Russia’s liberal consciousness wanting to emigrate? (The name means “time to shove off”). That site is more representative of Russian liberal opinion – that is, the liberals who aren’t rootless cosmopolitans who subscribe to Snob, not because they don’t want to but because they’re too poor and crude for it. One of their posts describes how they would much rather live under a restored Prussian monarchy in a separatist Kaliningrad than under the Chekists.

[Kaliningrad] is suitable for an “Egyptian scenario” today. For not many want to live under Putinism, and ethnic Russians need their own state. The clever, educated and honest will go to live there.

The ideal legitimate decision after a revolt in Kaliningrad will be the introduction of a monarchic form of rule as in England. The best candidate for this is the Grand Duke George Mikhailovich, who belongs to the Russian dynasty and the historic Hohenzollern dynasty, which ruled these regions since the 13th century… The monarchy will be recognized by all the monarchs of Europe, and the Grand Duke will also retain his right to the Russian throne, which will enable him to become a real splinter in the eye of Putinism. Our very existence in the heart of Europe will tell Putin: You are an usurper! You are illegitimate!

Only a monarchy headed by representatives of the Russian and Prussian dynasties will allow us to guarantee that we will not return to a USSR-2. It will give us free development, democracy, and real lustrations – or even better, the expulsion of everyone with ties to the Putin regime. In principle all that’s left is to solve this question with the US and the EU…

But not only do these kinds of posts illustrate a flat out insanity and utter disconnection with mainstream Russian sentiment that cannot afflict anything more than a marginal percentage of a population where the numbers of people saying the country is “going in the right direction” actually ros e in the wake of the announcement of Putin’s return, the fact is that this talk of aristocracy and a state for ethnic Russians actually hints at the racism and nasty ethnocratic sentiment that passes for Russian “liberalism.”

There are more than hints of this at other places. For instance, in a post discussing what they actually DON’T like in the US, they cite itsexceedingly high tolerance and ass-licking of African-Americans, feminists, fags, etc.” I’m sure Troy Davis or the gay soldier booed at a Republican conference would beg to differ, but then again no doubt the liberals think that they actually got off TOO LIGHTLY, obsessed as they are with lustrations, ethnic cleansing and deporting anyone who disagrees with their sick ideology. But that doesn’t stop bastions of Western journalism like The New York Times and The Economist from prominently featuring and praising them.

If Russia is a Sinking Ship, then the West is the Titanic

Now that we have established who are the people who want to emigrate so much at all costs – and whether it is in the interests of any normal country to accept them, it is worthwhile to consider another key question left out by the Western media in its “sixth great wave of Russian emigration”-spiel: where would they actually go?

Where to go? Visa free travel for Russians.

Where to go? Visa free travel for Russians.

First, going anywhere in the First World (remember that the liberals, being very racist, tend to despise anything else) is unfortunately fairly hard for Russians. See the map above. Obviously there are ways to get into the EU and the US, such as paying for an education abroad, or getting a job with a company, but for that you actually need some set of skills, motivation and easy-going character – not qualities that every bitter Russia liberal has in spades.

But okay, assume it’s not a huge issue. What next? The problem is that the entire Western world is wracked by economic troubles, with the Great Recession now giving way to the Great Stagnation. US economic output is lower now than in 2007, median incomes have plummeted, and many Americans themselves cannot find jobs. Unless they have very specialized skills and a good command of English, what is a new Russian emigrant to do there? The same goes for the UK and most of the EU. Anti-immigrant sentiment is growing everywhere (and sorry to say but it doesn’t give a fuck whether you’re pro- or anti-Putin). If you are a foreigner who want to work in the West, you could scarcely have picked a worse time.

What about the future? As Golts claims, isn’t it a fact that “Russia’s fiscal ship is sinking”, about to go down as soon as unsustainably oil prices crash? Won’t there be hordes of Russians wanting out soon? But let’s look at the other countries, because in these matters everything is relative. The EU – average budget deficit at 6.5% and debt over 100% of GDP, with countries like Greece down and Spain, Italy, and Portugal close to the brink of fiscal insolvency. The US – budget deficit of 11% of GDP, debt at nearly 100% of GDP, its monetary firepower exhausted, and facing a new recession on top of it all. The UK is a smaller version of the US. In stark contrast, Russia’s debt is negligible, its foreign reserves substantial, and the budget is actually in SURPLUS at 3% of GDP for the first half of 2011. If this means Russia’s fiscal ship is sinking, then the West must be the Titanic.

Okay, now I’m sure that oil may fall for a long period, assuming a few conditions are met (e.g. massive new easily-accessible oil discoveries or a long depression in both the West and China, both of which there is approximately zero sign of), and in that case, Russia will be in quite a pickle. But this scenario kind of presupposes absolute economic apocalypse in the West, and since most normal non-ideological people make decisions on whether to emigrate or not on relative economic opportunities, exactly what grounds are there to expect a mass exodus out of Russia when the world outside is an economic wasteland?

Of course, there will be a few ideologues who will leave regardless because of their Putin Derangement Syndrome. This kind of reminds me of 2004 in the US. I’m sure a few dozen or so Americans left for Canada in the wake of Bush’s re-election. But they were a tiny, tiny fraction of the hordes of liberals loudly proclaiming they would leave the US. In the end analysis, 99% of them were just too lazy or demotivated to go through with it. Likewise in Russia.

Now some forms of emigration are looking increasingly attractive for Russians, namely “downshifting” which is already well-known in the West. This involves getting a Russian (preferably Moscow) salary, or other source of income (e.g. rent) which are nowadays fairly respectable by global standards, and living like a king in some cheap foreign place with lots of sunshine like Goa, the Philippines, Argentina, etc. The economics work out. For instance, renting out a Moscow apartment can net you $500 per month; an Internet job not tied to any physical location may yield another $1000 per month. This may not seem that much in the US or Europe, but it can go a long, long way in a place like Laos or Central America. This concept of exploiting differential international prices, called geoarbitrage, is a rational and fulfilling way to live life and becoming increasingly popular in Russia. But it is profoundly different from the apocalyptic connotations associated with Western coverage of emigration from Russia. First, only a small percentage of the population can exploit it – at least, not until most jobs because “dematerialized”. We can’t all rent out our flats and earn money from Internet businesses. Second, it is hardly a confirmation of backwardness. To the contrary, only relatively savvy and free-thinking individuals in relatively developed countries can partake of such a lifestyle.

Obviously, the Russian liberals have no interest in such a life. With their quasi-racist and colonialist complexes, they naturally prefer rainy Britain and its bourgeois dictatorship to places they think of as Third World sinkholes that are little better if at all than their own country that they hate and despise so much. They want to go West for its slogans and self-serving propaganda about its own supposed transparency and lack of corruption, its freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, etc. that are all absent under the Putin regime. Fortunately, these psychos are few in number, and they will not be missed by Russia. Скатертью вам дорога, друзья!


So here’s the summary:

1. Few Russians are leaving. Many are coming in. Many of those who do leave go for entirely respectable reasons such as education abroad or taking advantage of international price differentials that are par for the course in any developed nation.

2. Furthermore, far more people want to leave most of the developed countries whose journalists sneer at Russia than do Russians themselves.

3. A few, perhaps a few dozen per year, leave on ideological grounds – mostly involving some irrational fear or hatred of Putin (“Putin Derangement Syndrome”, the Russian equivalent of Bush Derangement Syndrome); hatred towards Muslim immigrants into Russia; and a ridiculously warped and rose-tinged view of the pureness and integrity of Western civilization.

4. Most Western countries are too preoccupied with their own economic problems to offer any promise to new Russian immigrants, utterly regardless of their philosophical and political mutterings.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
🔊 Listen RSS
Nikolay Starikov, heroic destroyer of Russian liberal myths!

Nikolay Starikov, heroic destroyer of Russian liberal myths!

Do you remember the growing chorus of voices in the Western media speaking of a “growing wave” of emigration from Putin’s Russia? Those 1.25 million liberal professionals who have fled that neo-Soviet abyss in the past few years? As it turns out, not only are these stories complete fabrications – in a previous post, I revealed that the actual statistics (as opposed to hearsay) indicate that emigration has fallen to record lows – but they originate with the Russian liberal media.

The words of a government official, whose department has nothing to do with migration, was egregiously MISQUOTED to give the impression of a huge outflow in the past few years whereas he had been talking about the entire post-Soviet period! Nonetheless, too lazy and/or ideologically biased to do basic fact-checking, this false narrative spread into the top Russian liberal media outlets and from then on into Western publications (with their equally lazy and Russophobic hacks) such as Julian Evans for Wall Street Journal and Simon Shuster for TIME.

The full meta-story of how the Russian liberals orchestrated this “Second Wave of Emigration” meme is reconstructed in painstaking detail by Nikolay Starikov in his blog post How Liberal Myths are Created. My translation follows:

The recipe is simple: a little manipulation, a few lies, and a lot of emotions. And that’s all – yet another calumny on Russia is ready. Let us get to the bottom of this kitchen cooking liberal myths about our country.

A myth is always created in several stages:

STAGE 1 – The “Careless Citation”

Radio Echo of Moscow, Sat. Jan 15, 2011, program “Dura Lex.”

In the studio we have Mikhail Barschevsky and Chairman of the Audit Chamber Sergei Stepashin. They are having a nice discussion and congratulate each other on the New Year.

Sergei Stepashin feels himself comfortable and says the following in his discussion with Barschevsky:

BARSCHEVSKY: … You now speak of innovations. But, in reality, by abusing human rights – ordinary rights, such as security, not providing judicial protection – we lost a lot of talented people to brain drain. People who may now have been very useful for innovation.
STEPASHIN: Well I have the exact figures. 1,250,000 people, who are now working abroad. They aren’t the least able of us….
BARSCHEVSKY: You mean not plumbers?
STEPASHIN: Well, they are academics, specialists.
BARSCHEVSKY: 1,250,000?
STEPASHIN: 1,250,000. About as many left after 1917.

So what did Stepashin actually say? He said that 1,250,000 Russians work abroad. They are educated academics and specialists.

Now pay close attention – the Chairman of the Audit Chamber didn’t say a word about when these people left the country. The conversation was about something else – that today some 1,250,000 smart Russians work abroad. But when did they leave? Throughout the entire post-Soviet era! (And likely, including the period of the late USSR).

Sergey Stepashin has to be more careful with his numbers, and his words – especially on account of his position, and on that radio station! [AK: Echo of Moscow is one of the main media voices of Russian liberals].

STAGE 2 – Quote Manipulation and Myth Creation

After the radio program the liberals did two things:

(1) They began to present the 1,250,000 figure as originating from an authoritative source – the Chairman of the Audit Chamber. As if our Audit Chamber concerns itself with counting the numbers leaving the country. [AK: Obviously, it doesn't; that's the job of the Federal Migration Service]

(2) They presented this figure not as the numbers of Russians working abroad, but as the numbers of Russians who took leave of Putin’s Russia. I hope the difference is clear.

Thus the myth creation process from Stepashin’s carelessly phrased words began to spread in earnest. Here are a few randomly chosen Internet headers:

The middle class leaves Russia. “According to the Audit Chamber’s figures, some 1,250,000 emigrated from Russia in the last few years.”

Consequences of the Putinist decade: clever people scrambling out of Russia. “The country is submerged under a new emigration wave. 1,250,000 people left for the West. Once again people are running out of Russian en masse. If we believe the calculations of Sergey Stepashin, the Chairman of the Audit Chamber, 1,250,000 Russians left the country in the past few years.”

Soon after, this process is reinforced not just by simple “parrots,” but by more qualified commentators. Their goals are the same – the creation of false information in support of their thesis that “all that we had is now gone.”

1,250,000 emigrants. Why is Russia leaking human capital?” asks the title of a program on Radio Finam FM. It begins thus: “According to Chairman of the Audit Chamber Sergey Stepashin’s calculations, in the last few years 1,250,000 emigrated out of Russia. And this is only the official statistic.”

The radio show-manipulators invited Dmitry Polikanov, the Deputy Director of the Central Executive Party Committee of United Russia. But for him and for all its listeners, this 1,250,000 figure is already presented, as the OFFICIAL NUMBER OF EMIGRANTS IN THE LAST FEW YEARS.

This is how they frame their question: “Dmitry, please tell us, is not the younger generation off United Russia party leaders the least concerned about this statistic, or is it considered to be within reasonable bounds, and irrelevant? 1,250,000 people left our country in the last few years, but don’t worry – that’s nothing to worry about.”

It’s a smart approach – how exactly is a young United Russia functionary is supposed to argue with the Chairman of the Audit Chamber? For nobody has the time or desire to read the original source and realize that what Sergey Stepashin talked about, wasn’t in the least related to how leading liberals quoted him.

The liberals always exploit our big weakness – the majority of normal people don’t know the rules of information warfare. They can’t even imagine that liars may intentionally distort and outright falsify words and facts. And the liberals feed off this. They brazenly LIE.

Just remember – don’t trust any numbers put forwards by the liberals. In most cases, it will either be based on lies, or intentional manipulation. Check them; refute them.

But the young Polikanov accepted those liberal figures at face value and didn’t dispute the figure of 1,250,000 who LEFT IN THE LAST FEW YEARS. And in so doing, he in a way confirmed them. And that’s all that “independent” journalists really require.

Because now they can link to that discussion too: here was a United Russia functionary, and he didn’t dispute that figure, hence he agreed with it. And thus that 1,250,000 just left the country is the truth.

After that this figure seeps into the blogosphere, and becomes a common motif. A clear example of how normal life in “Putin’s Russia” is impossible.

Soon after Moskovskij Komsomolets joins in, which employs that famous “literatus” Aleksandr Minkin. He writes an article under the title Flight from the Tandem: “The Audit Chamber officially reported: “In the last few years, 1,250,000 people left Russia.” The wave of emigration is not a lot less than the one after 1917. This statistics are confirmed by the Director of the Federal Migration Service Romodanovsky: “About 300,000-350,000 Russians leave to work abroad every year.” How many of them return he didn’t specify.”

Regular as clockwork, Minkin is lying big time. The Audit Chamber didn’t officially report anything about emigration, nor can it because it isn’t its sphere of responsibility! Minkin isn’t only repeating Stepashin’s distorted words, but he is also creatively manipulating the speech of Konstantin Romodanovsky. The FMS Director actually said this: “Every year more than 300,000 people leave Russia, of whom 40,000 – for permanent residence abroad.”

That is, only 40,000 people permanently leave the country. The others study, work, travel, and return. The state statistics service Rosstat has very similar figures.

But let’s be honest, unlike “independent” journalists. Where to they go, where do citizens “flee” from their “bad” life in Russia? Of course, they leave for the “civilized world.” So let’s take the numbers of those leaving for the so-called “Far Abroad” (AK: Refers to the world outside the former USSR). After all it’s not like our countrymen are leaving for a better life in Moldova or Georgia.

1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008
Left for FA 86026 82327 87156 63408 59596 54586 47937 42778 33689 18799 15684 13394

So what we have is that in the past 12 years, some 605,380 people left the country. And the trend is for this figure to decrease with every passing year.

Unfortunately, Rosstat doesn’t give figures for 2009 and 2010 (AK: It does, but you have to dig into their database; this trend has continued, and as of this year the migration balance between countries like Germany and Israel has even turned positive!). But in 2008 some 39,508 people left Russia, out of whom 13,394 left for the Far Abroad. Is it even possible to imagine that in 2009 and 2010 there began a flood of 1.2 million when in the previous year there were less than 40,000?

STAGE 3 – Smearing the Country

And now Novaya Gazeta strolls by, all very randomly and independently. [AK: NG is the most hysterically liberal and knee-jerk anti-Putin paper].

After the previous stage of myth creation and “legitimization,” NG confidently states: “A high ranked bureaucrat has shed light on the unprecedented human flight out of Russia at the end of the 2000′s. The Chairman of the Audit Chamber Sergey Stepashin back in January gave a figure – from 2008, some 1.25 million Russians in the economically active part of the population. And the outflow continues. Although Stepashin predictably didn’t delve into its causes, the current emigration wave unconditionally enters the list of deferred achievements of the “eight years of Putinist stability.””

Read this Novaya Gazeta article. Pathos, photo. The general tone: All we have is gone, the Russia, that we have lost.

And now remember back – what did Stepashin actually say?

Do you still trust the liberal media?

All that said, for us this history with the lies and distortions so eagerly spread by the campaigners “for our freedom and yours” is only another reason to soberly analyze the emigration out of Russia of those people, who may be of use to it.

Let’s summarize:

  1. Some 1,250,000 of our countrymen, who left in the past 20 years, are now working abroad. Many of them are well educated and talented.
  2. The brain drain out of Russia continues. But, bearing in mind that the figures are falling year by year (reaching 39,508 in 2008), we can confidently say that the scale of this emigration is continuously declining.
  3. It is also clear that the vast majority of our brain drain happened in the periods of “reform” and “liberalism” – when effective managers and those same liberals destroyed science and industry – and not at all in the past few years.
  4. Sergey Stepashin should not relax when interviewed by Echo of Moscow. He should watch his words carefully, anyone of which may be used against Russia in the information war.
  5. Under no circumstances should one trust figures cited by the liberal mass media and “independent” journalists. They will deceive you, like rogue traders cheat on unwary customers in a bazaar.
  6. Cross check everything yourself, think independently. The main instrument for this is common sense.
  7. You have to love your country. This love will help you separate lies from truth.

End of translation

There is also a STAGE 4 – the Western Transmigration. In this episode, the hacks who populate Western journalism reprint Russian liberal talking points, but being every bit as lazy and ideologically Russophobic as the liberasts (and in some cases not even knowing the Russian language) checking the provenance of these stories isn’t exactly their first priority. It’s not even on the to do list.

Hence articles such as:

Hence what begins as liberal manipulation in the dregs of Russian media spreads to marginal newspapers such as Novaya Gazeta, and from then on to the heights of what passes for Western “journalism.”

PS. Compare also with liberal slandering of Russia on Russia’s demography by Nezavisimaya Gazeta and how the liberal media played up the specter of a wave of crisis-induced abortions in early 2009 even as abortions continued to fall and fertility to rise. Truly there is no end to Russian liberal lies.

EDIT: This article has been (re-!) translated into Russian at (Как российские либералы создают русофобские мифы).

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
🔊 Listen RSS

Everything’s going badly in Russia. Medvedev’s reforms are failing. The economy isn’t growing. It is moving from authoritarianism to totalitarianism (in stark contrast to civilized Western countries), and the motto “We cannot live like this any longer!” once again becomes an article of faith in the land – or well, at least among “the blogs on LiveJournal” and “the sites of the top independent and opposition groups” (who are of course totally representative of Russian public opinion). Citizens are fleeing the country like rats from a sinking ship.

Anyhow, unlike Eugene Ivanov who argues that media coverage of Russia has improved of late, I think the Western punditocracy remains every bit as wrong, idiotic and venal on Russia as it always was, and in this post I’ll use the recent WSJ article “Why Are They Leaving?” by Julian Evans as my foil (it’s illustrated with soc-realist posters of the worker and collective farm girl harkening back to the Soviet era; excusez-moi for crashing the party, but WTF do they have to do with anything in a story about Russian emigration of all things???).

“Russia’s small but educated middle-class is deserting the mother country in search of opportunities and freedoms elsewhere…” Thus from the get go the author makes the strong impression – and one that is decisively reinforced throughout the rest of the article – that Russia has a big emigration problem that is draining it of brains and talent. But let’s consult the statistics (as opposed to anecdotal evidence and online polls at Novaya Gazeta asking Russians whether they want to emigrate; yes, Mr. Evans cites the online readership of a paper written by liberal ideologues in support of his argument). Too bad for Mr. Evans, the statistics reveal his article for the sham it really is.

First off the bat, it is worth pointing out that Russia has a positive net migration rate. Far more people are going in than going out. This I’m sure will come as a shock to mindless consumers of Western media – conditioned as they are to think of Russia as a bleak wasteland full of starving nuclear scientists, hot girls wanting to score with rich British guys, and crooks desperate to park their ill-gotten assets into a Swiss bank account and get a second citizenship – but it is true nonetheless. Now granted this very minor factoid isn’t of direct relevance to the article, which is after all concerned about the disillusionment of Russia’s middle class and its growing flight abroad; nonetheless, failing to mention this inconvenient fact that many people in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and Ukraine are willing to go Russia not even once is misleading and hints at an agenda.

But the far more damning evidence is that even as regards those “civilized” countries that Russians have traditionally been emigrating to – the biggest recipient nations of Russians post-1991 were Germany, the US, and Israel – the flow of Russian emigrants had all but dried up by 2008. The overall net numbers of Russian emigrants to the world outside the post-Soviet space has been shrinking steadily from 1999, when it was at -72,000, falling to -26,000 in 2005 and just a few thousands by the late 2000′s. According to the Rosstat figures, from 2000 to 2010, the migration balance improved as follows for the five biggest host countries for Russian emigrants during that decade: Germany from -38,700 to -1,100; the US from -4,300 to -807; Israel from -7,900 to -133; Finland from -1,100 to -339; and Canada from -800 to -387. In the first four months of 2011, the migration balance actually turned positive relative to Germany and Israel (as it has already been for several years with another developed country, Greece). The graph below illustrates these trends.

[Click to enlarge. Stats for 2011 are annualized based on Jan-Apr.]

Julian Evans can cite any number of anecdotes he wants about how Russian businessmen are fleeing to Venezuela because “there are more opportunities to develop there”, or about the “young educated people” (because, of course, youth and education are synonymous with wanting to leave Russia) and “strongest and most gifted people” (quoting liberal ideologue Dmitry Oreshkin at Novaya Gazeta, 62.5% of whose online readership want to leave Russia) who can’t wait to set off for Notting Hill because of the “insecurity of property rights” in Russia. But his elitist fetish with the middle classes (that supposedly hate Putin’s Russia) blinds him and by extension his readers to the larger reality, which is that emigration is very small and continues to decrease into this year. The actual statistics flatly contradict his ramblings, and as such Julian Evans remains about as credible as… well, the same hack who six years ago was expounding on the “green Stalinist light” in Gleb Pavlovsky’s office.

Now you may at this point want to rejoinder… but AK, aren’t you a big fan of opinion polls? Didn’t you just a few days ago try to use them to argue that Russian elections aren’t rigged? And don’t Levada’s opinion polls indicate that quite a lot of Russians really do want to emigrate – 22% of them as of May 2011, up from 13% in 2009 – thus confirming Evans’ and Oreshkin’s arguments? Well, just as there are lies, damn lies, and statistics, there are opinion polls, and then there are opinion polls. Some signify more than others. For instance, in the aftermath of Bush’s election win in 2004, some Americans loudly declared they were fed up with it all and were ready to hop over the border to Canada… but when the time came to walk the walk (as opposed to talk the talk), the migration flows to Canada didn’t change in any perceptible way. That’s because just being fed up with domestic politics – that is what Evans alleges is the main reason for the “educated middle-class deserting the mother country” – is, in most cases, a frivolous reason for making a life-changing decision such as emigration, and while many might think about it in their idle moments very few follow through on it.

If you don’t believe me, let’s return to the opinion polls again. Back in 2006, The Daily Mail reported that 13% of Britons wanted to leave the UK in the near future (as you may know there has NOT been a massive flood of British hordes out of the island since, my own case and that of random drunken revelers in Prague regardless). By 2010 this figure had leaped up to 33% – higher than the percentage of Russians saying they want to leave now, BTW (and that’s despite those awesome “rule of law” and “civilized values” things that Russian liberals like to harp on about when it comes to any Anglo-Saxon country) – but nonetheless, we still see no mass exodus from Albion. Why the discrepancy? Return to that Levada poll and look at the breakdown of answers more closely. 22% of Russians may be thinking of leaving, but only 1% are actually packing their bags.

And this brings us into what should be the main starting point of any discussion about the future of Russian emigration: why would they want to? All this currently fashionable twaddle about property rights or rule of law being a major driver isn’t convincing; it’s certainly no worse than it was in previous years, and if anything is showing signs of improvement. Why would the middle-class (which is as happy as any other social group with Putin) decide to take a hike right now? Let’s be serious. In previous years, there were only two main groups of emigrants: (1) the vast majority were ethnic minorities, such as Jews and Volga Germans, returning to their national homelands; (2) educated professionals from academia who were earning breadcrumbs from Russian academic institutions with no opportunities for original research. Almost all those who would ever emigrate from the first group have already done so (see the vast decrease in emigration to Israel and Germany). Meanwhile, anybody who has been following the issue will know that the salaries of state workers have been increasing at rapid rates in recent years, including those of academics; true, the increases were from a very low base and absolute salaries remain far lower than in fully developed countries, however if the emigration statistics are anything to go by (and with the help of Russia’s lower relative prices) salaries have now reached a level that allows for a rough balance between immigrants and emigrants. In other words, the situation with Russian academia vis-à-vis the world now largely resembles that those prevailing between developed nations – scientists are free to have scientific exchanges, but with the vast majority of researchers returning to their home countries after a stay of several months or years.

PS. More details here: Гуд бай, Америка: Эмиграция из России в США достигла минимума.

Also see Nikolai Starikov’s Как создаются либеральные мифы for an account of how liberals used misquotes to create the impression that Russia is facing a second emigration wave.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
🔊 Listen RSS
The two dunces.

The two dunces.

During the past two years, Russian “dissident” liberals Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Milov have produced a frankly maniacal quantity of so-called “Independent Expert Reports” (there are now seven of them) that purport to debunk the “persistent myths imposed by official [Kremlin] propaganda”. The authors say that their latest exegesis, melodramatically entitled “Putin. The Results. 10 Years” and at 48 pages one of their shorter works, will have a print run of one million copies and will be distributed throughout Russia’s regions. This latest iteration of Nemtsov’s anti-Putin screed differs little in substance from the first, which was pilloried by Sean Guillory in Nemtsov’s White Paper: Bombshell or Dud?

Though Sean castigated the “dynamic duo” for their middle-class chauvinism, neoliberal elitism and poverty of proposed solutions, even he was far too kind in granting them the benefit of the doubt on their “litany of statistics, examples, and facts” showing that Russia had been brought to the brink of collapse by Putin (of course Russia was pushed well past that brink under Yeltsin, when Nemtsov reached his political apogee; but I digress). Now I hadn’t previously read any of Nemtsov and Co.’s earlier scribblings, but their introduction to this latest report raised my suspicions. Apparently, one myth peddled by Kremlin propagandists is that under Putin, Russians began to “give birth more and die less”. Of course, anyone with the slightest familiarity with Russian demography knows this is either a howler or a mendacious lie. If these guys can’t be relied on to get simple facts right, facts which can be looked up on the Internet within seconds, what basis is there to trust them on anything else they have to say? So I decided to sneak a peek at Nemtsov’s chapter on Russia’s demography… and discovered a truly epic mountain of red herrings, statistical manipulation and outright lies worthy of a Brezhnev-era Goskomstat apparatchik.

Nemtsov’s Bomb Defused

The chapter in question is entitled “A Dying Country”… not only is it a kitschy trope, but one that is no longer really valid as Russia saw positive population growth in 2009. But whatever. The choice of title fades into irrelevance in comparison with what comes next.

1. According to the Gospel of Vlad and Boris, one of the main tenets of the “Putinist mythology” concerns Russia’s recent demographic progress, in stark contrast to the “1990′s national extinction”. The authors then invite us to look at the “facts”, which apparently look something like the graph below.

[My translation of Nemtsov's graph (the "Yeltsin" and "Putin" insertions were my own, but otherwise it is unchanged). Click to enlarge.]

Where to start? First, the giant elephant in the room that our democracy crusaders “forgot” to mention was that immigration into the Russian Federation was far higher in the 1990′s than it was during the Putin period. From 1992-1999, Russia received a one-off 3.6mn influx of net migrants, the vast majority of them ethnic Russians repatriating from the other former Soviet republics. During the 2000-2009 period, Russia received just 1.5mn net migrants. This single factor of declining net immigration would account for almost two thirds, or 2.1mn out of 3.4mn, of the “extra” population decline under Putin.

Second, drawing any conclusions just from a straightforward calculation of Russia’s average yearly population decline under Yeltsin and Putin is an exercise in complete absurdity, given that Yeltsin’s early years were influenced by the (relatively) low Soviet mortality rates and high fertility rates, while Putin’s were influenced by the (relatively) high mortality rates and “lowest-low” fertility rates of the Yeltsin legacy. A more nuanced analysis would:

  • Identify defining trends instead of using blanket averages: a transition to fullblown “hyper-mortality” by 1994, a series of peaks and dips under a Yeltsin and early Putin administration that couldn’t care less for the nation’s demography, and concrete improvements after 2005 when the state began to take these issues seriously.
  • Take into account Russia’s aging population (which places upwards pressure on mortality rates over time), and hence use a statistic that is independent of the population age structure: life expectancy, which at 69 years in 2009 was higher than at any time during the Yeltsin period, when it fell from 68 years in 1992 to 65 years by 2000.

Third, note that the vertical axis Nemtsov uses stretches from just 140mn to 150mn people, giving the impression (to the passing eye) that Russia’s population completely collapsed under Putin and most likely continues to retreat into oblivion (whereas a year by year graph would show population decline flattening out during the past 2 years). This is of course done on purpose to elicit a negative emotional reaction.

2. The next paragraph discusses “hyper-mortality” – the fact that Russia’s mortality rates are abnormally high for an industrialized country at peace. This is a major problem I have written about at length, though since it has been metastasizing since as far back as the mid-1960′s what it has to do with Putin must remain a mystery. Yet even here Nemtsov can’t refrain from “embellishing” an already depressing picture. He does this by citing Russia’s mortality and fertility statistics from the CIA, whose demographic stats on Russia paint a bleaker picture than those produced by Rosstat, the Russian statistical agency.

Let me explain. As a rule, only national statistics services have the manpower and regulatory resources to compile comprehensive demographic (economic, etc) statistics on their own countries. The stats you see from international institutions like the World Health Organization are mostly drawn and aggregated from them. Same goes for the CIA on demography, except that since it rarely brings its figures into “sync” with updated ones produced by the national statistics agencies, most of its demographic data is the result of inhouse projections of what the demographic situation might be given a set of increasingly obsolete past assumptions instead of current measures. Hence, whereas Nemtsov claims that Russia has a birth rate of 11/1000 and a death rate of 15/1000 based on July 2009 CIA figures, the real numbers for that year were a birth rate of 12.4/1000 and a death rate of 14.2/1000. Ultimately, this is a fairly minor point, but it does illustrate how Nemtsov is very selective about the data he uses (he has no problems with citing Rosstat on numerous other occasions).

3. The authors begin showing their reactionary colors when they come to dissing Russia’s rising natality. Granted, not quite as in your face as in their first Report, but the ass is still showing. This section is worth translating in full.

Excessively rapid fertility growth in a non-affluent country, especially amongst the lumpenized segment of the population (which are receiving pro-natality stimuli thanks to Putinist measures such as “maternal capital”[20]), could lead to negative consequences: a reduction in the standard of living, poor caretaking of the newborn, and high rates of illness amongst them.

In April 2008, the Health Minister Tatyana Golikova was forced to admit that this [fertility] increase was accompanied by an increase in infant mortality in 48 regions of the country.

[20] For “maternal capital” of 250,000 rubles [AK: today equivalent to $8,000], based on average housing costs it would have only been possible to buy 4-5 square meters of living space.

They’re really getting desperate, firing at every possible angle in the hope of hitting Putin, aren’t they?

First, forget the negative long-term consequences of the continuation of “lowest-low” fertility (seen up until 2006, hovering at 1.3 children per woman). Is Nemtsov really disconnected and foolish enough to believe that Russians will rally to his holier than thou middle-class chauvinism? Especially considering that most Russians have paternalistic views of government, believing that it should help the poorest members of society? Considering that many Russians complain that they want two children but can only afford one?

Second, the authors transparently try to give the (false) impression that Russia’s recent fertility spurt was accompanied by rising infant mortality through very selective quoting of Golikova. Was that really the case? Not at all. Data on infant deaths per 1,000 live births: in 1990 – 17.4; 2000 – 15.3; 2006 – 10.2; 2007 – 9.4; 2008 – 8.5; 2009 – 8.2; 2010 – still falling

4. Then we come to a rather banal history of Russia’s hypermortality with a generous serving of anti-Putin spin. I’ve translated a typical segment below and filled in what Nemtsov wants you to think on reading it.

The rise in Russia’s mortality began way back with Brezhnev, during the 1970′s [AK: actually from the mid-1960's but whatever], and continued up until the mid-1990′s [AK: hence Yeltsin and the reformers can't be blamed for any of this... according to the Gospel of Vlad and Boris]. In 1995, however, Russia’s mortality began to fall and in 1998 retreated below 2 million deaths per year [AK: 1) by "below 2 million deaths", he means 1.99 million deaths - not kidding!, 2) the inconvenient truth that death rates began to soar again in 1999 during the last year of the Yeltsin Presidency - in the aftermath of the 1998 financial crisis, which was enabled by the incessant stealing within Yeltsin's inner circle (and happening to coincide with Nemtsov being Deputy Prime Minister!) - naturally goes unsaid].

But under Putin, the tendency towards a rise in mortality rates acquired a new strength, and reached a new peak of 2.37mn deaths in 2003 [AK: this at a time when Putin was still surrounded by Yeltsin's "Family" cronies and occupied with consolidating a half-disintegrated state]. Lowering deaths back below 2 million still hasn’t been achieved [AK: but this is harder now that it was in 1998, since the Russian population in 2009 is now considerably older than it was back then!].

Look, if you really want to, it is just as easy to spin this the other way. Here’s an alternate narrative. The USSR was a healthy nation. Soviet mortality rates strongly increased under Gorbachev, thanks to the anti-alcohol campaign and the birthmark on his bald head (year: 1989, LE: 70 years). Then Yeltsin and his cabal of traitors undermined and collapsed the Soviet Union, resulting in a massive fall in life expectancy (year: 2003, LE: 65 years). However, heroic Putin rescued long-suffering Holy Rus’ from the Judeo-Dollar yoke in 2003 by attacking Khodorkovsky. Now everything is getting better because Putin kicks ass (year: 2010, LE: 70 years).

[Russia's life expectancy - closely tied *not* to politicians, "shock therapy", etc, but to alcohol affordability and consumption rates. In fact, perhaps one of the main healthcare achievements of the Putin era is that the correlation between (relatively) cheaper booze and higher mortality rates may have broken. Source: Rosstat data.]

Does the above sound kind of ridiculous? Not really any more so than Nemtsov’s narrative. His screed is the mirror image of what a fawning Kremlin sycophant would write.

5. Nemtsov proclaims in gloomy tones that Russia has a very high number of deaths from external causes, murders, suicides, alcohol poisoning, etc, the aim presumably being to present Putin as a bad ruler based on the ills of his kingdom. But what he doesn’t mention is that in recent years Russia’s mortality from “vices” (alcohol poisoning, homicides, suicide) has fallen back down to late Soviet levels and is now well below the peaks around 1994 and 2002-3.

[The drop in deaths from alcohol poisoning is probably the most encouraging indicator, because excessive alcohol consumption accounts for around a third of all Russian deaths (in the broad sense) and drives trends in homicides, accidents and suicides (in particular). Source: Rosstat.]

6. Nemtsov goes on to make another startling claim (to anyone remotely familiar with the situation on the ground).

Low quality healthcare remains a big problem [AK: certainly], and Putin didn’t manage to do anything about this during ten prosperous years [AK: wtf?]… Russia spends just 5.3% of its GDP on healthcare, like Morocco or Ecuador, in contrast to 9-11% in many countries of Western Europe.

Many, many people would disagree with him. E.g. the guys at The Lancet, a respected British medical journal.

A vigorous anti-alcohol campaign, new road safety measures, and a programme of health awareness workshops for teenagers are among the positive signs 6 months after the Kremlin introduced a new 12-year health-care blueprint which identified the “formation of health as a priority in the social and spiritual values of Russian society” as a key task.

Even Nemtsov’s fellow liberal reformer Yegor Gaidar (as translated by Mark Adomanis):

In 2009, despite the economic crisis, expenditures on healthcare from the Federal budget grew 25% in nominal terms from 231.4 billion rubles to 289.5 billion rubles. Expenditures from the budgets of the subjects of the Russian Federation remained practically at the previous level: 518.7 billion rubles against 520.1 billion in 2008. Taking into account investments to obligatory medical insurance of the working population, state financing of healthcare grew in 2009 by 5.6% (2.9% in real terms) having reached 1.06 trillion rubles. This differentiates the situation in 2009 from the crisis in 1998* when state expenditures on healthcare and spending by the population on medicines and medical services all declined.

At the beginning of 2009 the government made a decision to continue the realization of the national project “Health” until 2012. The project’s financing still comes out of funds of the federal budget as well as off-budget funds: the Federal fund of obligatory medical insurance and the Fund of social insurance. Despite the economic crisis and the significant reduction in government income, expenditures on the national project not only weren’t subject to reduction, but grew by 20.2% in comparison with 2008. This attests to the real priority of this project in the government’s budget policy.

*But Kathryn Stoner-Weiss told me that Yeltsin defended Russians’ welfare better than Putin!!

7. Then a big sprinkling of statistics and anecdotes about trends in consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs, and smoking. For once in this chapter I think Nemtsov makes a valid point about the Russian government’s overly cosy relations with the alcohol and cigarette lobbies, which have prevented or delayed the passage of needed legislation. Nonetheless, even here Nemtsov’s point is (politically) wrecked by the class hatred that he just can’t keep bottled in. Sean’s summary of Nemtsov’s position still applies:

The poor “drink more” and the wealthy live the “high life.” In contrast, the middle class is the archetype of healthy and productive living. “Moderate use of alcohol and a healthy lifestyle in general,” they write, “is the way of the middle class.”

Now there might well be research showing that this is the case, as Nemtsov claims. (He doesn’t provide a link or citation). But it certainly isn’t the kind of language that is going to get anything more than 5% of Russians fired up with puritanical bourgeois fervor.

Furthermore, Nemtsov’s comparison of Russia’s 30,000 annual drug-related deaths to its (lower) losses during ten years of war in Afghanistan will surely be viewed as offensive and asinine by most Russians. There is a fundamental difference between the two in that people (by and large) make the choice to become drug addicts, whereas Soviet conscripts had little to no choice about being sent to the graveyard of empires. Incidentally, one of the reasons for the increased flow of heroin into Russia in recent years that Nemtsov decries so much is the US inability or unwillingness to control the growth of opium production in Afghanistan**… (But don’t forget that in the Russian liberal universe America is always right and if it isn’t then suck on it).

8. Nemtsov miscomprehends the French Paradox, saying that the reason the French lead long lives despite a high alcohol consumption rate is because they drink fine wines. (The real paradox has to do with their low rates of heart disease and high rates of saturated fats consumption)*. However, he is correct in his (one-line) suggestion, a rather obvious one, that incomes have to improve if Russians are to afford more expensive drinks.

His suggestion for cutting smoking rates? “It is necessary to implement the successful experience of the US and Western European countries that was accumulated over decades”. You don’t say, Sherlock?! While it is valid to say that Russia’s progress on this front has been on the slow side, it is not fair to imply, like Nemtsov does, that nothing is being done.

9. Now Nemtsov talks about depopulation and labor force decline without trying to distinguish between them.

Population decline has a long-term character. In the last few years and in the near future Russia will lose one million people of working age annually due to the high mortality rates and natural population aging. The loss of one million workers is equivalent to a fall in GDP of 1.5%, and a loss of revenues to the budget, which will lead to problems with paying for pensions and as a result to social stresses. Therefore, chronic depopulation threatens economic development and puts into question the future territorial integrity of the country.

First, Russia’s population has already returned to growth (or more accurately “stabilization”) in 2009, thanks to rising fertility and life expectancy. Second, declines in the working population are now inevitable, but Nemtsov curiously neglects to mention that this was made inevitable by the fertility collapse of the early 1990′s during the Yeltsin period! Nonetheless, he need not worry too much. According to the Rosstat medium scenario, the labor force will fall from 62% of the total population now… to a truly apocalyptic rather unremarkable 55% by 2030.

Furthermore, Nemtsov’s mixing of depopulation and labor force decline is particularly disingenuous because each counteracts the other. If Russia’s population falls, this means it will have failed to raise its life expectancy or fertility rate, and hence its labor force will be higher as a percentage of the population. Paradoxically, if Russia sustainably stabilizes its population by improving people’s health and getting them to have more children, its labor force will shrink much faster as a share of the population for the very reason that this population will have more children and pensioners! (To illustrate this, the labor force in 2030 is at 57% of the population in Rosstat’s low scenario and at 54% in its high scenario).

10. Finally Nemtsov talks the talk about migration.

Instead of [pursuing an effective immigration policy], in 2002 the Putin regime passed repressive [AK: sic!] immigration legislation, which increased illegal immigration while reducing the flow of law-abiding and hard-working citizens into the country. In the 1990′s near 8 million Russophones arrived into Russia from the post-Soviet republics [AK: just to clarify, this is *not* net immigration; during the period, many Russians also left Russia]. With Putin’s arrival this process came to an abrupt halt.

The sudden reduction in the numbers of immigrants became the main cause of the plummeting Russian population during the Putin years relative to the 1990′s.

Look, while I’m not a huge fan of said 2002 law, calling it “repressive” is well beyond the pale – especially for any politician the least concerned about his popularity! It is also interesting to note that Nemtsov puts this section on immigration at the end of the demography chapter, well away the graphs showing population decline under Yeltsin and Putin. One can only assume that Russians wouldn’t be so moved by Russia’s almost-stable population under Yeltsin had they known that it was only being sustained by an unsustainable inflow of ethnic Russians repatriating from the Near Abroad!

[Would an honest observer interpret the above graph as a "sudden reduction in the numbers of immigrants" under Putin? Source: from Rosstat. Click to enlarge.]

Which brings us to a much bigger misrepresentation by Nemtsov. He essentially claims that thanks to Putin’s mismanagement of migration policy (the 2002 law is cited), ethnic Russian immigration came to a halt. Yet as we can see from the graph above, Russia received by far the biggest numbers of migrants during the early to mid-1990′s. By 2000, most ethnic Russians who would ever immigrate back to Russia from the Near Abroad had already done so. This process was always due to come an end, regardless of who was President, and had already mostly petered out by the late 1990′s. (The new uptick in immigration from 2006 mostly consists of Central Asian, Caucasian, and Ukrainian Gastarbeiter drawn to Russia’s rising affluence).


This chapter “A Dying Country” constituted about 20% of Nemtsov’s paper by word count, so it is a valid gauge by which to judge the rest of it. Now demography is a pretty easy subject, especially when it comes to checking up on straightforward factual claims. For this post I didn’t need much else other than Rosstat, Wikipedia, and my sick googling skills. ;) In contrast, making accurate statements on the economy, an entity that can be measured and interpreted in any number of ways, is much harder. And assessing levels of corruption is an order of magnitude harder still, since it relates to the quantity of that economy that people take so many pains to hide away from view. So if one finds so much blatant ignorance or deceit in a big chunk of work dealing with demography – practically on every paragraph – chances are the overall opus isn’t worth anyone’s time.

The pattern of simplification and misrepresentation appears to be repeated throughout the entire paper. For instance, take Nemtsov’s graph of the structure of Russian exports in the chapter on the economy, which shows the share of hydrocarbons exports soaring from 44.9% in 1999 to 69.6% in 2009, while hi-tech exports fell from 10.9% to 4.9% during the same period. But only a hack like Nemtsov would say that this proves that Russia under Putin became more resource dependent “than ever before in its history”. For a start consider that the price of oil rose from $16.56 in 1999 to $91.48 in 2008! If there is a sixfold increase in oil prices over a decade, then its share of total exports was practically bound to increase too, barring Russia blowing up all its pipelines! (Besides, that would be “energy imperialism”). But even all this neglects a more fundamental fact: while Russian exports remain dominated by resources because they constitute its comparative advantage, Russia’s domestic economy has, in real terms, become substantially more productive, more services-centered and less extraction-heavy since the late 1990′s (in relative terms).

Now a defender of this Report may accuse me of missing its entire point – isn’t Nemtsov politicking against equally nefarious Kremlin propaganda? Isn’t it perfectly normal and acceptable for politicians to play fast and loose with the facts? While this may normally be an argument, this is not the case here. First, Nemtsov and Milov portray themselves as paragons of accountability and integrity (as opposed to the kleptocratic Kremlin regime) – if they want to demand their bed they have to lie in it too. Second, these ass-clowns entitle their work an “Independent Expert Report” for crying out loud! I am approaching Nemtsov’s writings on his own terms – as an analytical work. It is on its own analytical merit that it either stands or falls under the weight of its lies and contradictions.

But what about its impact as a political statement? Nemtsov’s only natural constituency, as evidenced by his classist rhetoric, is “the urban, semi-intellectual, semi-politically engaged class” who now make up around 25% of the Russian population. A not inconsiderable potential base, true, but they more than most in Russian society owe their allegiance to Putin; it was under his system that they made – or made off with – their wealth. No amount of one-sided paens to the glory Yeltsin years delivered by Nemtsov is going to change that. And although Nemtsov does make some faux populist overtures, they are hardly going to win him any supporters from amongst the lumpen-proletariat whom he wants to breed out into extinction! (Assuming they even bother reading the 12,000 words of what is really a very dull paper). No, the Gospel of Vlad and Boris is only going to be treated as such by the 50,000 odd signers of the Putin Must Go petition, at least in Russia. As for abroad…

In an interesting twist to the story – and ironically what made me aware of Nemtsov’s report in the first place – Russian police confiscated 100,000 of the one million copies of the Report and sent them to the MVD’s “extremism” department for analysis. Coming as it does on the eve of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, where “Medvedev is set to hobnob with businessmen from around the world”, Nemtsov and Milov could not have hoped for a better source of publicity. Tinpot dictatorship here we come! Once again, the idiotic zeal of Russian officialdom elicits outraged editorials in the Western (and Russian) press, snickers from the suave and sophisticated, and delivers further confirmation of Russia’s impending slide into totalitarianism to the typical Westerner.

Not to mention endless frustration for people like myself. I am even coming to think that the deaf Russian state might just deserve its blind liberals.

* Though I do agree with Nemtsov that getting Russians to switch from samogon to vodka to wine or beer is a good strategy as far as these things go. Me from two years back: ;)

Convert wine production into a strategic industry and massively fund its expansion. Try to remake Russia into a wine-drinking nation. Aim to turn vodka into an exclusively export industry.

** That said, I’m very skeptical about the (self-interested?) arguments, or alarmism, of Russia’s anti-narcotics department. To test if this is a major, rapidly-spreading drug epidemic, it is logical to look at death rates for the most-affected demographic groups. Say, 20-25 year old males, among whom death rates are low and mostly due to external causes and poisonings.

Take the death rate for 25 year old males in Russia, a demographic group that would be one of the most exposed to drug abuse (Nemtsov cites the average age of death of Russia’s druggies as being 28). In 2000, i.e. before the Afghanistan campaign, it was 0.0060, and it stayed above 0.0050 until 2007 when it fell to 0.0047, and in 2008 fell further to 0.0041. These improvements, one would think, would have been exceedingly unlikely had there been a big jump in Russian heroin consumption.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
🔊 Listen RSS

After its long pre-modern stint as Europe’s most populated nation, France started transitioning to lower birth rates from the Napoleonic era, about a century in advance of the rest of Europe. On the eve of the First World War, its stagnant population made a stark contrast to German youth and virility. Considering the disparity in absolute numbers, 40mn French to 67mn Germans, it is not surprising that its General Staff looked with trepidation across the border and conscripted more men for longer periods than the Deutsches Reichsheer. And although France prevailed in the Great War, as was said of the Persians after Thermopylae, “any more such victories and they will be ruined”. Its morale collapsed upon invasion in 1940, leaving it to be occupied by the Nazis – thus apparently evidencing popular contemporaneous views of them as an effete race doomed to fail against Teutonic might.

Yet Germany too underwent a fertility transition after World War One, falling to replacement-level rates at around the time of the 1923 Weimar hyperinflation. For all their pro-natality efforts and anti-feminist zeal, the Nazis cardinally failed to pull Germany out of its demographic rut. The post-war baby boom crashed after 1970, and since then deaths consistently outnumbered births in Germany. Today France’s growing population of 62mn souls already has more children than Germany, whom it will overtake by around 2050, according to UN projections based on current trends. But unlike France in 1914, Germany needn’t worry too much about this. It is economically, politically and culturally intertwined with its erstwhile enemy and at least for now, the prospect of another European civil war is in the realm of fantasy.

The moral of this story? First, demography is an inherently difficult thing to predict – especially its key component, fertility, which depends on a myriad of economic, social and cultural factors whose relations to each other are still little-understood. Second, though demography is a powerful trend it is frequently superseded by social, political and technological developments. Third, and consequently, the deterministic concept that “demography is destiny”, relying as it does by necessity on the fallacy of linear extrapolation, is of very limited utility in forecasting the fates of nations.

An objective and in-depth look at Russian fertility trends shows that forecasts of Russia’s impending demographic doom, in which the Crescent replaces the Cross on its national gerb and ethnic centrifugal forces tear apart its Federation, are completely unrealistic. Though rhetorical hyperbole dismisses it as a dying nation with “European birth rates and African death rates”, the reality is that it is already fast recovering from the extended transition shock of the post-Soviet collapse. Instead, it is likely that the next few decades will see stagnant or slow population growth as Russian fertility patterns converge to that of France or Canada, with any shortfalls between births and deaths filled in by immigration; and after 2030, the world system faces a series of discontinuities that rend apart any predictive enterprise.

A Crude Demographic History of Russia

The annual rate of population growth can be derived from the birth rate, the death rate and net migration, which are usually measured in cases per 1000 people. Subtracting the death rate from the birth rate gives the rate of natural increase, which is shown below for Russia from 1959-2008.

The rate of natural increase was closely correlated with overall population growth in Soviet times, since migration either way was small then. As social and economic problems multiplied in the late 1980′s, the birth rate contracted and the death rate soared, intersecting each other around 1992 and forming the so-called “Russian Cross”. Though the population hit its peak of 149mn in 1992 and the rate of natural increase fell to -0.5% annually, the population fell at a relatively low rate until 1998 because of a large influx of ethnic Russians from the newly independent Near Abroad.

Afterwards the collapse accelerated after fertility tumbled further and immigration began to dry up in the wake of the financial crash, but the situation began to improve again from 2006 due to rising births, falling deaths and increased immigration. In 2008, the death rate stood at 14.7 / 1000, the birth rate at 12.1 / 1000 and net migration at 1.7 / 1000, giving a rate of natural increase of -2.6 / 1000 and overall population growth of -0.9 / 1000. Russia’s population almost stabilized in the last two years.

A Fertile Demographic History of Russia

Let us now look in more at the fertility side of Russian demographics in more detail. The graph below shows Russia’s total fertility rate (TFR) from 1925-2006.

The TFR is calculated by creating an imaginary woman who passes through her reproductive life subject to all the age-specific fertility rates for ages 15-49 that were recorded for a given population in a given year within one year, and calculating the number of children she would be expected to have. As such, it is a much more meaningful measure than crude birth rates, which depend on the particular structure of a society’s population pyramid. The replacement fertility rate is the figure at which long-term population growth tends to zero, absent increasing life expectancy and migration. In most developed societies this is around 2.1 because slightly more boys than girls are born.

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. 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 a rise in the TFR to 1.41 in 2007 and approximately 1.50 in 2008. This is higher than the average for the European Union and the post-Soviet baby boom is already getting noticed by media outlets in the West.

A Female Demographic History of Russia

An even more meaningful measure is the 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 at birth and b) the female death rate, pre- and during childbearing age. Although the replacement level TFR is usually quoted as being 2.1, as mentioned above it varies in practice. 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 for generation reproduction. This is because a lot of females die before they can give birth to more girls. Although China has a nominally respectable TFR of 1.7-1.8, it is effectively considerably lower due to societal preference for males and the resulting skewed demographic profile.

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.

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 highly fertile Hispanics. In Russia, the NFRC increased since 2005 to 0.67, which puts it above most east-central European countries but still significantly below France, Scandinavia and the Anglosphere.

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 a truly deep and perhaps intractable problem, whereas a big 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 improvements 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.

Now that we have a basic understanding of longterm Russian demographic trends, it is time to examine some common arguments of Russia’s demographic doomers.

The Argument from Reduced Cohorts

In demographic discussions on Russia, whenever someone points to the revival of births rates during the late Putin Presidency, a pessimist will interject that it is just the result of many women born during the 1980′s mini-baby boom coming of childbearing age – the so-called “echo effect”. Yet although from 1999-2007 the crude number of births increased by 33% from 1,214,700 to 1,610,100, only 37% of that increase was due to an increase in the size of the childbearing age segment of the population. The other 63% is due to the rise in the 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 doomer argument that recent increases in the birth rate are exclusively down to the current youth bulge is at best only a third valid for Putin’s whole term, and almost totally false for the past two years.

They do however make a valid point when they warningly point to Russia’s pine tree-shaped population pyramid, the demographic legacy of the Great Patriotic War (1941-45). As you can see in the 2006 diagram below, there are currently about 40% fewer females in the 0-15 years age range, than there are in the 15-30 year age range.

The transition shock, coupled with the echoes 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. To avoid an intensified resumption of population decline after that period, Russia will have to lower its mortality rates, increase immigration and raise the average age at childbirth.

The Effect of a Rising Average Age of Childbirth

Speaking of which, that has already been happening since 1993 as couples begin marrying later and postponing children, albeit the average age of Russian women at birth is still significantly smaller than in Western Europe.

In the 1960’s, when people expected to have many children, the average age at birth 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 was concentrated amongst women over 25 and decreased amongst those between 20 and 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.

This means that as Russian women converge to European fertility schedules in the years ahead, the big 1980’s generation will have more children in their 30’s than any previous post-Stalin cohort. The sharp fall-off expected in birth rates will thus be to a certain extent modulated, depending on the speed of the above transition.

Fertility Expectations Today are Little Different from the Soviet Era

One problem 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 – nor was the 1990’s collapse as apocalyptic as some would have it. Or in other words, many women gave birth in the 1980’s because of the social benefits of perestroika and many postponed birth in the 1990’s because of the transition shock. The effect on deeper generational fertility patterns was much more modest – a drop of just 0.2 children.

From above we can also see that 2007 was a seminal year not only for its respectable rise in the TFR, but because for the first time since the post-Soviet stagnation the ABS begun to appreciably rise again, 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%. This is partly linked to the aforementioned rise in the average age of childbirth.

The Argument from Convergence to European Fertility Patterns

Many better-informed pessimists, though they know about the recent up-tick in the TFR, nonetheless insist that it is a one-off improvement exclusively due to the recent pro-natality campaign. They believe it just brought forward in time births that would have occurred anyway and that this effect will fade away in a few more years. The respected demographer Nicholas Eberstadt falls into this camp, writing:

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.

Unfortunately, Eberstadt is wrong, or at best over-simplifies the situation. First, according to most surveys the vast majority of Russians say that they desire to have two or three children. The mean is around 2.5 children. This is barely down from the 2.7 children desired in 1990, when the first such survey to my knowledge was conducted under the auspices of the World Values Survey. Less than 10% would be content with an only child, albeit many were forced to do with just that during the post-Soviet hyper-depression.

This is further backed by a 2005 Rosstat study, Family and Fertility. 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. 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. Figures in italics are estimates based on crude, but in my opinion justified, linear extrapolation from the other data in the table.

Russian Demographics – Fertility Patterns
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

Extended to Russia as a whole, it implies that the planned fertility is around 1.9-2.0 and the the desired fertility is 2.4-2.5 children. There is 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. This is roughly in line with surveys in other countries.

Second, it ignores the fact that there is a great deal of diversity in European fertility patterns. It can be roughly subdivided into the following regions: the West (France and the British Isles), the Med (Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal), Germania (Germany and Austria), Visegrad (Poland and its east-central European neighbors) and Scandinavia. The West and Scandinavia tend to have reasonably healthy TFR’s, ranging from 1.7 to 2.1, and on average desire to have 2.4-2.6 children. The Med and Visegrad countries have 1.3-1.4 children and desire 2.0-2.2 children. Although Germania has a TFR of 1.4, its desired number of children is the lowest in the region at 1.7-1.8. So on average although Europeans want about 2.1-2.3 children, their particular circumstances – frequently speculated to be excessive social obligations, high unemployment and perhaps subconscious forebodings of overpopulation – limit their fertility to a EU average of 1.4. In general, the greater the disparity between real fertility and desired fertility, the greater the perception that they have too few children and presumably, the greater the desire to close the “potential gap”.

Belief in the Future Returns to Russia, Crisis Notwithstanding

Considering that Russia’s desired fertility is around 2.5, this means that in the presence of good conditions, its “natural” TFR can be expected be lie somewhere between 1.7 and 2.1 children. It is true that the phenomenally rapid jump in the TFR from 1.3 in 2006 to about 1.5 in 2008 was helped by the pro-natality campaign, but there are deeper factors at work. According to the Levada Center for sociological research, there were a number of positive discontinuities in Russia life from 2006 on.

After a long period of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 more people began to believe Russia was moving in a positive than in a negative direction, and from early 2008 more people felt confident in tomorrow than not. Though positing dependencies between such semi-intangible variables and concrete demographic trends is risky, I do not think it is a coincidence that solid improvements in the TFR only began from 2006. Anyone closely observing Russia in the past few years will have noticed a new confident conservatism in Russian society, albeit many pessimists interpret it as mere petro-fueled swagger, about to be brought back down to earth by the unfolding economic crisis.

Perhaps. Yet marriage rates, perhaps as good an indicator as any of social confidence, surged from a nadir of 6.2 / 1000 people in 2000, to 7.5 / 1000 in 2005 and 8.9 / 1000 in 2007, and continued increasing in Jan-Feb of this year. Mortality rates also continued their swift descent, after taking a rest in 2008 from the impressive improvements from 2005-2007, when life expectancy rose from 65.3 to 67.5 years.

Furthermore, the post-Soviet collapse was an unprecedented hyper-depression, surpassed only by the Civil War in its social costs. Though on paper recovery from the 1998 crisis was rapid, newly severe budget discipline undercut social spending that left many classes and regions destitute for years. It is telling that in the first six months of the 1998 recession, the proportion of people who could hardly afford even food rose from 29% to 40% of the population; in stark contrast, in the five months since the Russian economy began collapsing in October, this figure rose from 9%…to just 10%.

This is notwithstanding that the rate of decline from Q4 2008 to Q1 2009 was even sharper than during H2 1998. However this time round, both state and society have much bigger surpluses to fall back on during the lean times. As such, the probability that the crisis will have a significant longterm effect on Russian fertility is extremely low. Russia retains strong foundations for growth – an educated populace, an extensive industrial infrastructure, growing centers of innovation and extensive hydrocarbon reserves in a post-peak oil era. Sooner or later rapid growth will resume, ushering in the material conditions for the rite of spring to blossom into demographic summer.

Not All Demographic Indicators are Created Equal

Many commentators believe that Russia’s excessively high mortality rates preclude a demographic recovery – an example of this line of reasoning appears in Rising Ambitions, Sinking Population by Nicholas Eberstadt. It is certainly true that Russia’s life expectancy is exceptionally low by industrialized-world standards and that death rates for middle-aged men today are, amazingly, no different from those of late Tsarism. This development is almost entirely attributable to the extreme prevalance of binge drinking of hard spirits. Yet their conclusions don’t follow the arguments.

This has little direct effect on fertility – the main burden of hyper-mortality falls amongst men, who as a rule don’t reproduce except in very rare circumstances. Female death rates, although much larger relative to their Western counterparts, are statistically insignificant prior to and during their childbearing years. The infant mortality rate of 8.5 / 1000 for 2008 is already close to developed-world standards of 3-7 / 1000. There is no major discrepancy between the numbers of men and women until the age of 40, so no problem with finding mates.

Excessive mortality also disproportionately affects poorer, badly-educated people – life expectancy for college grads actually increased from Soviet times. Eberstad asserts that high mortality rates precludes human capital formation through education and hence dim prospects for high rates of future economic growth and consequently perpetuating low fertility. This doesn’t stand up to evidence or common sense.

Today, more than 70% of Russians get a higher education and they perform well in standardized international tests on math and science. deaths from heart disease and accidents only happen to other people. The reasons why should be obvious – most folks don’t refer to the society around them, calculate their life expectancy and make cost-benefit analyses on whether or not to improve their human capital. They just see their friends go to college and join in to avoid the draft and avoid jobs like cleaning garbage.

It is true that poor health lowers productivity, although by curbing aging it also partially relieves pressure on pensions. Yet it cannot check the growth of a vital civilization – America was known as the Alcoholic Republic in the great early days of its founding. The drinking problem was already very bad in the late Soviet Union, but that did not preclude it from maintaining near replacement level demographics until its dissolution. In my own simulations of Russia’s demographic future, even small changes in the TFR have bigger long-term impacts than major changes in mortality trajectories.

Finally, some analysts believe Russia is going to experience an AIDS mortality crisis sometime in the next few years. As I noted in The Myth of the Russian AIDS Apocalypse, the models used by Eberstadt and other prophets of doom are critically flawed, because according to the international research program Knowledge for Action in HIV/AIDS in Russia, they assume that “the epidemic would be essentially heterosexual in nature and follow trends observed in sub-Saharan Africa”, which is “not borne out by current surveillance data from Russia” – or indeed by the slightest acquaintance with comparative development and sociology.

Russia’s medieval working-age male mortality profile blights lives, but has only a minor effect on long-term demographic development, and as such should be treated as a pressing public health problem instead of the demographic land-mine it is more commonly portrayed as.

The Myth of Dhimmitude

Alarmist analysts like Daniel Pipes and Paul Goble, Islamic fundamentalists and certain plain demented Russophobe bloggers raise the specter of Russia’s transformation into a majority Muslim nation within the next 50 years. As is usually the case with such sensationalist claims, closer examination clears up the clutter. If you read Russian, take a look at Will Russia become Muslim?, otherwise…

First, the share of ethnic Russians declined from 81.5% of the population of the RSFSR, to 79.8% of the population of the Russian Federation – a time of low Russian birth rates and rapid Muslim expansion. Even a crude linear extrapolation of these rates forward, ignoring demographic transitions and aging, gives a figure of 68.7% ethnic Russians in 2050.

Second, even this is a pointless exercise, of course, as a quick look at current regional TFR proves. The two biggest ethnic Muslim groups, the Tatars (3.8% of the population) and the Bashkirs (1.2%) transitioned to sub-replacement fertility rates at about the same time as ethnic Russians. Today, Tatarstan has a TFR of 1.4 and Bashkortostan has a TFR of 1.6, which is not significantly different from that of majority Russian regions.

Even the current rapid population growth seen in the Caucasian Muslim republics conceals a major demographic transition during the 1990′s. Although a huge youth bulge contributes to current high birth rates, it should be noted that all the Caucasian republics now have sub-replacement fertility rates, with the sole exception of Chechnya where the TFR was 3.1 in 2007. Incidentally, I suspect it is no coincidence that it is Chechnya which also had by far the bloodiest recent history – when you have just one son to lose instead of several, it is that much harder to send him off in the service of violent separatism or radical Islam.

Third, the reason some people fear or relish the idea of an Islamic Russia is because they associate Russian Muslims with their less socially developed counterparts in the Middle East. Actually, vodka has long since dissolved away the Koran in Russia. Tatars, who make up more than a third of Russia’s Muslim population, are almost as secular to Islam as ethnic Russians are to Christian Orthodoxy. Even amongst the Chechens Wahabbism never truly took root, despite the best efforts of Arab mujahideen. As Fedia Kriukov 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, one of the staples of alarmist, pessimistic and/or Russophobic (not to mention Sinophobic) commentary on Russian demography is a reworking of the yellow peril thesis. In their fevered imaginations, the Chinese supposedly swim across the Amur River in their millions, establishing village communes in the taiga and breeding prolifically so as to displace ethnic Russians and revert Khabarovsk and Vladivostok back to their rightful Qing Dynasty-era names, Boli and Haisanwei. I comprehensively refuted this fantasy in a previous post on Russia Blog, The Myth of the Yellow Peril.

Arguments from Linear Extrapolation Discount Future Discontinuities

Based on the following analysis, it is clear that Russia’s demographic crisis is nowhere near as great as commonly portrayed even in informed commentary on the subject, which too frequently uses flawed analogies and unwarranted linear extrapolations. As I argue in Faces of the Future, all predictions of a fall in Russia’s population to 100mn or less by 2050 are not borne out by current fertility and sociological developments. I give an alternate range of scenarios that see Russia’s population change to 139mn-150mn by 2025, and 119mn-167mn (medium – 150mn) souls by 2050. My results are more or less in line with Rosstat forecasts which see the population growing to 129mn-150mn (medium – 137mn) by 2025, albeit they diverge from more common models based on pessimistic assumptions on future fertility. I highly recommend checking it out – my Medium Scenario is reproduced below.

Ultimately, history will be the judge on whether this forecast fares any better than its peers. I suspect it will be epic fail all around – especially after 2025. This is because by then much more powerful trends in resource depletion, climate change and technological growth will be coming into play. The end of cheap hydrocarbon based energy threatens an end to global economic growth and collapse into the Olduvai Gorge. Numerous positive feedback mechanisms such as methane clathrate releases and saturation of traditional carbon sinks will intensify global warming. We will be reaching limits to growth on multiple fronts and industrial civilization will be in peril. As one of the few countries to benefit from global warming, Russia may become host to hundreds of millions of climate refugees.

On the other hand there will be great technological advances, including the rise of nano-manufacturing, ultra high-bandwidth full-immersion virtual reality networks and perhaps recursively self-improving strong AI. Major demographic discontinuities could include the development of an artificial womb (and baby factories?) and indefinite lifespan or actuarial escape velocity. However, bioengineered viruses or malevolent AI could also conceivably destroy the human race. Much as the rise of agriculture made hunter-gathering obsolete as a way of life, and just as industrial civilization remade the world in its own image, the dematerialization associated with a technological singularity will rend traditional human demography moot.

Perhaps neither of this will happen and things will continue much as they did before, but many serious futurists believe that major discontinuities will occur – there are simply too many exponential runways and pitfalls. Yet there is one thing I am certain on – the significance of demography will decline, just as it has since the days of mass conscription armies. Superpowers in the future will count their strength in oil barrels and supercomputers, not men.

This article is reprinted at Russia Blog. It also generated a long discussion over at Streetwise Professor.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
Chinese in Russia number in the hundreds of thousands, so the Far East is not in danger of demographic domination by the Chinese.
🔊 Listen RSS

One of the staples of alarmist, pessimistic and/or Russophobic (not to mention Sinophobic) commentary on Russian demography * is a reworking of the yellow peril thesis. In their fevered imaginations Chinese supposedly swim across the Amur River in their millions, establish village communes in the taiga and breed prolifically so as to displace ethnic Russians and revert Khabarovsk and Vladivostok back to their rightful Qing-era names, Boli and Haisanwei. To a limited extent they have a point. Since 1989 the population of the Russian Far East declined by 14% to 6.7mn in 2002; shorn of subsidies from the center, it is now dependent on the rest of East Asia for food and consumer imports. It sits next to Chinese Manchuria (the provinces of Heilongjiang, Liaoning and Jilin), an environmentally-strained rust belt of 108mn souls. Thus it is not surprising to see American geopolitical jockeys, Russian xenophobes and anti-Putin “liberals” alike (Golts, Latynina, etc) claiming that a stealth demographic invasion of Russia is under way which will in a few years result in a Chinese Far East.

As regular readers of this blog will know I prefer facts and statistics to rhetoric and hyperbole, and fortunately for us the excellent Russian demographic publication had this subject as its main theme in October 2008 – Life in Russia from Chinese Eyes. I will translate its main findings and conclusions to an English-speaking audience and then muse on the implications for future geopolitics.

The issue of Chinese migration to Russia and its political consequences starts with one main question – how many of them are there? All reputable estimates are in the range of 200,000 to 400,000, with 500.000 as the absolute maximum, most of them shuttle traders or seasonal laborers. The academic Gel’bras first came with these figures in 2001, based on adding up numbers from separate towns and regions. Foreign policy heavyweight and government official Sergei Prikhodko estimated a range of 150,000 to 200,000. According to the Federal Migration Service, in 2006 a total of 202,000 Chinese got registered as temporary workers in Russia, or 20% of all Gastarbeiters; although their numbers increased to 331,000 in 2007, they made up only 17% of all immigrant labor.

The alarmists believe that there is a massive, stealthy infiltration of Chinese into the deserted Far Eastern forests, where they establish communes and breed for the future glory of Greater China. Writing in the respectable “Russian Federation Today” in 2004, the academic Gil’bo spoke of 8mn Chinese living in Russia today and predicted its increase to 21mn in 2010 and a staggering 44mn by 2020. The article was called “perspectives on the Sinoization of Russia” – although that may have been his perspective, to date no-one has confirmed it. No secret Chinese communes have been discovered in the Far East. Although it is true that the figure of 35,000 ethnic Chinese given in the 2002 Census is too low by an order of magnitude, the millions plus numbers are as unrealistic. It is nigh impossible to be self-sufficient in food in the Far East and the idea that so many people will be both willing to endure medieval-like hardships and remain permanently hidden for years belongs to the the realm of fantasy.

Let us now look at the portrait of a typical Chinese migrant. Demoscope organized a poll of 700 traders and workers and 200 students, half of them in Moscow and one sixth each in the cities of Khabarovsk, Blagoveschensk and Vladivostok. Of those, 60% were men; most were middle-aged; and a surprisingly high 21% had a higher education (even in recent times tertiary enrollment in China stood at 12% of the young population). Below is a table of where they came from.

Russia Moscow Far East
В том числе
Vladivostok Khabarovsk Blagoveschensk
Beijing 6 10 2 2 3 0
Heilongjiang 45 11 79 66 86 85
Liaoning 7 11 3 4 3 2
Jilin 8 8 9 14 5 9
Hebei 1 1 1 2 0 1
Shandong 2 1 3 6 0 2
Shanghai 2 3 1 1 1 0
Fujian 3 7 0 0 1 0
Zhejiang 5 9 0 1 0 0
Jiangsu 5 9 1 2 0 0
Guangdong 3 5 0 0 1 0
Other 13 25 2 3 0 3
Total 100 100 100 100 100 100

The vast majority in the Far East hail from the neighboring province of Heilongjiang while most of the rest come from nearby Jilin and Liaoning – this illustrates the cross-the-border-and-back nature of the migratory flows there. In Moscow, whose Chinese population is much smaller, there is a much more even distribution of Chinese by region of origin, with substantial numbers coming from the eastern and southern seaboards.

Most migrants come from cities or small towns, and only 20% from villages – although the latter figure is higher in Moscow. Only 5% were employed in agriculture back in China. 38% were “workers” and 11% were “worker-peasants”. Although only 6% admitted they had been unemployed, the real figure is much higher since 70% of workers and 68% of worker peasants said they migrated because they couldn’t find a job in China. This is not surprising. The Chinese northeast is a depressed rust belt whose state-owned factories fired many of their workers years ago, many of whom were classified as “awaiting job” – a nice way of saying unemployed, and nice for official Chinese statistics too. Another 11% of Chinese migrants were government workers, presumably wanting to make some more money on the side. A surprising 35% considered their material situation in China to be “good” or “very good”; 36% evaluated it as “medium”, and 29% believed it to be “bad” or “very bad”.

According to the above graph, most Chinese immigrants are relative newcomers to Russia. In the critical Far East region, only 23% have spent more than five years in the country.

Few Chinese have affluent lifestyles in Russia – the majority, 61%, view their material condition as “medium” or “satisfactory”, 15% as “bad” or “very bad” and 21% are “good” or “very good”. Their earnings are not particularly high, with 83% getting less than 20,000 rubles – roughly the same as in neighboring Heilongjiang, when they had jobs there. Many say they save up on accommodation, medicines and even food in Russia. Leisure activities are plain and inexpensive – TV/Internet (23%), Chinese friends (17%) and family (12%). 22% have no free time. Only a quarter does touristy things, spends time with Russian friends, or do shopping or sport.

Most migrants come with the help of those already based there, who give them a hands up. The Chinese communities in Russia are tightly-knight, insular and highly trust-based, albeit fragmented into regional and ethnic groupings. According to the poll, 4% say they are directors or owners of an enterprise, 15% work for a Chinese firm, 9% work for a Russian firm and 53% are “independent entrepreneurs” – however, in practice the majority of the latter are hired workers and traders in informal relations with a Chinese company. Relations with employers are generally harmonious, with 25% saying they enjoy good relations, 41% evaluating them as “satisfactory” and only 1% complaining that they’re bad. The other 31% don’t work for hire.

They typically learn enough Russian to get by, but no more. Only 9% have a good knowledge of the language and another 5% can read; 33% can explain themselves and 43% are bad at the language. Another 6% are currently studying the language at an institute. Only 4% don’t know any Russian. Life is adaptive rather than planned – only 15% acquaint themselves with Russian laws or regulations. This is presumably because doing so makes little difference, with 82% of Chinese experiencing police requisitions, 49% rackets and 45% bribery amongst tax and customs officials.

Given the above, it is somewhat surprising to see that a majority of Chinese think that conditions for small and medium businesses are good in Russia. I guess all things are relative.

The Chinese have mixed opinions of how they’re viewed in Russia. In the Far East, attitudes towards them are more favorable than in Moscow. Locals are relatively friendlier in the Far East and Muscovites are more hostile. In the Far East, 25% claimed they had things stolen from them, 9% were beaten, 22% were threatened and 53% were insulted; in Moscow 16% said they were beaten.

That said, most Chinese migrants retained a favorable view of Russia and many expressed the desire to continue living there. Impressions generally improved after visiting it and the outcome of most trips were classed as “successful” or “partly successful”.

Most prefer to remain in Russia and open a business or expand it (Far East), get accommodation (Moscow) and improve one’s life in Russia. It appears the Chinese place far more emphasis on Russia’s potential to make them money than minor things like whether they get ripped off or beaten. A majority would prefer to either live in Russia permanently or live in China and keep commuting to Russia for work, even amongst those with negative impressions of the country. There are big regional differences. 67% of Moscow Chinese would like to get some form of permanent residency in Russia, compared to 27% in the Far East – despite the fact that attitudes towards them are significantly better in the Far East. The majority would like to bring a family member to Russia, especially those in Moscow.

59% of Chinese migrants would like their children to retain connections to Russia – 76% in Moscow and 37% in the Far East. Some 85% in Moscow and half in the Far East are not against mixed marriage – 2% are currently in such a marriage. For comparison, 8% of Russians approve of mixed marriages, 40% are neutral and 40% disapprove.

In conclusion, more Chinese migrants in the Far East think that Russia has better conditions for enterprise and consider locals to have better attitudes towards them, than their compatriots in Moscow. However, Moscow’s much smaller and diverse pool of Chinese migrants is much more enthusiastic about integrating themselves and their children and relatives into Russia. Thus what we see is a developing China-town in Moscow and moderate, temporary and mostly seasonal flows of Chinese into and out of the Far East who view Russia in an almost purely commercial light – a way to escape unemployment, make profits and enjoy them in China. The writers end the report by making the obvious (and banal) recommendation that Russia should both regulate migration in accordance with the national interest and treat migrants with respect – both much easier said than done.

Some more articles about Chinese migration:

Chinese migration – facts, objectivity and subjectivity: a Kazakhstani perspective. As in Russia, they massively overstate the Chinese presence, mixed marriages, etc. Ironically twice as many Kazakhstanis visit China every year than vice versa.

What’s happening with Chinese expansion in Russia?: a comprehensive and sarcastic recounting of prior alarmist estimates of the numbers of Chinese in Russia.

The Russian vector in global Chinese migration: notes that the alarmism of the 1990′s and early 2000′s is dwindling away and being replaced by more scientific views of Chinese migration to Russia. Notes that Russian migration as a share of total Chinese global migration is tiny – as of 1990, the total number of Chinese overseas was about 37mn, including 30% of the population in Malaysia, 10% in Thailand, 17% in Brunei and 4% in Indonesia. Lots of other stuff.

I will now go beyond demography into geopolitics. China is not the monolith that it is usually painted as in the West; its strong central government conceals a greater deal of simmer, dynamism and regionalism. The idea that it could organize a successful stealth demographic invasion of the Far East is preposterous. The only way in which something like this could succeed would be if Russia were to collapse again and to a far greater extent than during the 1990′s, e.g. like during the Civil War when Vladivostok was occupied by the Japanese. This is possible, but unlikely.

What you have instead is a reversion to nineteenth-century traditions, in which Korean and Chinese laborers and traders made seasonal migrations to the Far East and built up sizable, but far from demographically dominant, communities in the region (who were later deported to Central Asia in 1937 over fears of Japanese espionage).

Speaking of which, that would be a real concern if China were to ever invade. That said, Chinese expansion has always been primarily aimed at South East Asia – today’s strategic posture emphasizes a limited, hi-tech war against the likes of Taiwan, Japan the US. Historically China aimed to achieve three geopolitical aims in the following order: 1) maintain central authority over the commercial seaboard and the peasant hinterland, 2) surround itself by a buffer of vassal states on land – Tibet, Sinkiang, Mongolia, Manchuria, etc and 3) build a strong navy to repel sea-based foreign predation and to protect its trade. Today and in the future, China is going to have cope with a panoply of threats to those geopolitical goals – rising inequalities, a disconnected bureaucracy, ethnic separatism and American and Japanese sea power. In other words, it’s going to have its hands full and Chinese willingness to pursue reconciliation and friendship with Russia is a reflection of its need for a safe strategic rear.

As I’ve mentioned here before, China is going to run into severe ecological problems within the next few decades. Water tables are plummeting in the northern breadbasket, yields are stagnating and the deserts are spreading. The south has plenty of water but is threatened by inundation due to the melting of the icecaps. The rivers that feed its people and industry are going to run dry as the Himalayan glaciers melt away. This means that as soon as the 2030′s, overpopulated China will be faced with a scenario in which it will either have to acquire new lands or face die-off. Would it invade the Russian Far East? The problem with this is that even if it were to succeed in conquering it, actually building up the infrastructure for human accommodation will take decades; the land is barren, mountainous and will remain very cold even after warming. The actual war will be very costly for the Chinese because the Russians will almost certainly use their huge stockpile of tactical nukes to check the assault. Should they lose, its possible they will unleash their much superior strategic nuclear arsenal on China or even worse – thus destroying their industrial infrastructure and precipitating a die-off in any case.

Hence I believe that if, or more likely when, ecological problems reach a critical point in China they will expand into (by then collapsed) East Africa, using the mighty navy they foresightedly built up to forestall anyone who has a problem with that. It will also guarantee continued energy, food and resource flows into metropolitan China from Australia and Latin America. Eventually it is possible that Russia (and Canada) will fully open up their borders to immigration from the sinking and drying south, in which case the Far East will become Chinese. But this is all futuristic speculation.

The essence of Russian demographic doomerism is that in a few decades the AIDS-ravaged, infertile and alcoholic ethnic Russian component will die out and be replaced by hordes of Islamist fanatics in the west and Chinese in the east.

NOTE: This article was edited by Charles Ganske and myself and reposted on the prestigious Russia Blog as The Myth of the Yellow Peril: Overhyping Chinese Migration into Russia. It’s a better version and I recommend reading it there.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
🔊 Listen RSS

I developed a model on Russia’s future demographic development in Matlab. First, I will describe (non-mathematically) the essentials of how it works; then I will present a range of different possible scenarios. Our data is sourced from Rosstat and the Human Mortality Database.

Demography is a social science, and as such it is impossible to make any precise predictions. As such the strategy we will use is to present four different scenarios, which include Stagnation, Low Improvement, Medium Improvement and High Improvement. (The Transformation scenario I was thinking of doing would have involved some rather complicated math and as such I leave it to a later date). They will be described below. First, an examination of basic concepts.


The biggest single factor by far in this model are future fertility trends. It basically determines whether the population will go up or down (improvements in mortality statistics only postpone, not alter, underlying trends). The fertility rate itself is the amount of children in any given year a woman could be expected to have, calculated by adding up age-specific birth rates. The amount required for long-term population stability is 2.1 children per woman (because in most countries slightly more boys are born than girls).

Mortality trends are more useful for ascertaining things such as future dependency ratios, which are important from an economics perspective (assuming the retirement age remains constant). It can also be argued that it is an ethical responsibility of society to maximize the (healthy and fulfilling) longevity of its citizens’ lives. The life expectancy is how long a person can expect to live based on the age-specific mortality indicators of the year in question.

Net immigration, in Russia as in many other countries, typically consists of bringing in masses of young workers which help boost the percentage of working-age people within a population. Its merits are debateable. While they certainly put in more than they take out, they can also cause social unrest and lower overall productivity (if they’re uneducated cheap labor). As such, in my opinion the Japanese method of substitituting capital for labor on the factory floor (it has more than a third of the world’s stock of industrial robots) is generally smarter than importing a diverse mob of car-burners (although perhaps I have an insufficient appreciation of the spiritual benefits of multiculturalism). Digressions aside, it is clear that after a relative migratory drought in the early to mid 2000′s that followed the huge influx of ethnic Russians from the Near Abroad, economic progress and impending labor shortages are drawing a new tide of migrants, and this time many more of them are non-Slavic Central Asians and Caucasians (a total of 287,000 in 2007, probably with many more not covered by the statistics).

With an understanding of the basics, we can now reveal our first scenario.

Stagnation Scenario

This scenario keeps Russia’s population structure and age-specific birth and death rates as of 2006 constant and projects them to 2050 to get the results below. There is no net migration.

The total population in the top-left graph will decline from 142mn today to 91mn in 2050. An amusing corollary is that Russia’s population will equal Croatia’s in 2250 (well, at least that’s still enough to produce a good football team), and the last Russian babushka will die out at the dawn of the next millennium. The top right graph shows the population age structure for every year until 2050. Red means more people, blue means less. And it portends a very blue Russia by the middle of the century. The two graphs below the total population show the female and male population over time. You can also see the “pine tree” shape of the Russian population pyramid (the demographic legacy of WW2, reinforced by post-Soviet fertility collapse) reflected in the alternatingly-colored diagonal bands across the graph.

Of course, in reality this (pretty much worst-case) scenario is extremely unlikely to happen. On the other hand, it does illustrate where all predictions that Russia’s population will fall to around 100mn by the middle of the century are coming from – they simply posit constant, or at best slow changes, in fertility and mortality rates.

Universal Mortality Model

In reality, change is unlikely to be slow (at least in mortality, which unlike fertility is at least somewhat predictable). Medical technology is improved at exponential rates and this in turn is driving down mortality rates from circulatatory diseases and cancers – also at exponential rates. Just look at the graph below for Swedish mortality over time.

The two upper graphs show female and male age-specific death rates from 1751 to 2006. The line which tends down sharply from around 1870 and crosses several others corresponds to infant mortalty (0 years). From bottom to top, the other lines correspond to death rates at the ages of 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80 and 90. Note how death rates remained essentially flat up to the middle of the nineteenth-century, but then started falling exponentially (straight lines against a logarithmic scale) amongst younger age groups, before encompassing progressively older cohorts.

The bottom graphs show the age-specific mortality for every Swedish age group from 1751 to 2006. Note the astounding exponential improvements seen in mortality across the board since the early twentieth century. The white dots amongst the blue region, particularly prominent amongst girls, are actually years when presumably no children died at those particular ages in Sweden.

(Two unrelated matters of interest, at least to me. Note the sharply delineated mortality spikes seen early on, e.g. around 1770, 1810, 1860 and 1918, which corresponded to particularly virulent plague outbreaks. In the pre-vaccine age such events periodically decimated the population. Note also how recently death rates amongst 30-year old men have actually fallen below those of their 20-year old counterparts. Presumably, this is because of higher incidences of transport accidents and suicide amongst young men, now that debilitating diseases which kill older people have been suppressed to insignificant levels.)

Now a reasonable objection would be that Russia, thrice poorer per capita than Sweden, does not have access to that wonderful exponentially improving medical technology. That, however, is not the case, as a cursory glance at the graph below will show.

It clearly shows mortality improvements amongst the younger generations (under 15 years) advancing at an exponential rate throughout the period (albeit even today only matching 1960′s Sweden). Meanwhile, the greatest regression is amongst middle-aged men. Note the dips in the late 1980′s and the spikes in the mid-1990′s. What should this tell you? Wake up and smell the vodka!

Russia’s catastrophic mortality rates, as thoroughly explored in the second post, are closely correlated with the alcohol/food price ratio – around a third of all deaths can be attributed to alcohol abuse, with working age men being the most strongly affected. All the familiar patterns (Gorby’s anti-alcohol campaign; flunctuations in the food-alcohol price ratio in the post-Soviet period; etc) are reproduced. This has happened in stark contrast to mortality improvements amongst children and the intelligentsia (incidentally, two groups with lesser propensities for alcohol abuse), and as such the exceptions prove the rule.

We took Sweden to be a ‘universal model’, since it a) has comprehensive mortality records going back to 1751, b) it has always been at the forefront of medical technology and c) it has not been involved in large scale wars or long-term catastrophic social trends (e.g. mass alcohol abuse) that would otherwise skew the data. To approximate Swedish mortality trends, we modelled mortality for every age group as a straight line, before initiating an exponential best fit to the historical data at a particular time. This depended on their age. For infants, it was 1860; for 50-year old’s, it was 1910; for people of age t, the year mortality began its exponential fall was 1860+t. While admittedly crude, it does indeed look that the moment when mortality decline really took off from the exponential runway at any particular age could be approximated by a right-leaning diagonal straight line originating at 1860 or thereabouts.

The results of the model are the two graphs at the bottom of the image below, while the two graphs at the top are the historical records for comparison.

As you can see our model looks remarkably accurate, projecting the whole improvement in mortality across an ever broader age spectrum. For obvious reasons it cannot predict the sharply delineated mortality spikes seen early on, e.g. around 1770, 1810, 1860 and 1980, which corresponded to particularly virulent plague outbreaks. However, it is, interestingly enough, successful at replicating 30-year olds’ lower mortality compared to 20-year olds.

Russian Demographic Model

Mortality. We took the exponents derived from the universal (Swedish) mortality model and grafted them onto Russia’s demographic profile. However, in this case Russian mortality will remain the same relative to Swedish mortality forever, even as they both improve exponentially. In real life this would only be expected to happen if lifestyle habits for Russia and Sweden were to remain frozen vis-à-vis each other. In practice it’s likely the government will intensify its efforts to contain and suppress the alcohol epidemic and other typical, negative Russian lifestyle choices (smoking, diets high in animal fats and glycemic loads, lack of exercise, etc). As such we added two convergence coefficients – one describing how fast Russia approaches Sweden relatively, and another describing how fast the age groups that are farthest apart converge compared to the age groups that are closest together in their death rates. The rate of convergence for each Russian age group is dependent on the gap between it and its Swedish counterpart.

Fertility. Is extremely difficult to predict, and as such will be the (hopefully educated) guesswork that forms the core of my scenarios. But it really is extremely uncertain. For instance, there’s no concrete explanation for why fertility rates remain healthy in some developed countries (like the US or France) and very low in others (e.g. Germany, Italy, Spain, Japan). First, there will be a three year adjustment period to a fertility of 1.4 from today’s 1.3. Then, we will linearly extrapolate fertility levels in blocks of years (e.g. we could have it rising to 1.9 from 1.4 in 2006, staying constant for ten years, then sharply falling to 1.2 in 2025 and remaining at that level until the end of the simulation in 2050). Today the average Russian woman gives birth in her mid-20′s, which is early by the standards of most advanced industrial countries. We have set the parameters such that Russia’s 2006 age-specific birth rates linearly converge to that of another country (from a choice of the UK, Australia, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands) at a year of our choosing.

Migration. As with fertility, done in linearly extrapolated blocks. At any year we can choose to set it either as a certain percentage of the total population or as an absolute number. Since migration typically functions on a quota system, in practice we will always opt for the latter. Migrants will be equally split between men and women and will be normally distributed across age groups with an average age of 25 and variance of 10.

And now the really fun bit…seeing Russia’s futures unfold before our eyes!

Low Improvement Scenario

  • No mortality convergence
  • Fertility. 2006: 1.4, 2015: 1.7, 2025: 1.7, 2050: 1.3; age-specific fertility convergence with the Netherlands by 2040
  • 100,000 immigrants every year

Total population dynamics

Age-specific death rates

Life expectancy (female and male)

Birth and death rates

Age structure

Life expectancy

The population size eases down to 139mn by 2020, before plummeting down to 119mn at the end of the simulation. Russia’s female age-specific death rates by 2050 will catch up to Sweden’s today, but men will continue to lag even by this measure (their 25-year olds will die at the same rate as Swedish 45-year olds and Russian 18-year olds in 2006). Total life expectancy will rise from 66 years to 75 by the end of the period, albeit the gender gap will remain the same (since there is no convergence in this scenario).

On the positive side, continuing high mortality rates will mean that the working age percentage of the population will remain high, falling to 64% in the late 20′s before rising and again falling to 63% by 2050 – which imply completely manageable dependency ratios. Meanwhile, the share of youngsters and old people will change to 13% and 24%, respectively. The birth rate will be lower than the death rate throughout the entire simulation and the lowest rate of natural population decrease will be reached around 2015.

Medium Improvement Scenario

  • Both mortality coefficients = 0.025
  • Fertility. 2006: 1.4, 2015: 2.0, 2025: 2.0, 2050: 1.7; age-specific fertility convergence with the Netherlands by 2030
  • 300,000 immigrants throughout

Total population dynamics

Age-specific death rates

Life expectancy (female and male)

Birth and death rates

Age structure

Life expectancy

The population will decline gently until 2010, when it will start growing again for the first time in nearly two decades. The demographic reversal will gain strength and in 2025 for the first time in its history Russia’s population will surpass the 150mn figure. By 2050 there will be 157mn Russians. At that time Russian women will die at the same rate as Swedish women, although Russian will still have a little bit of catching up left to do with their Swedish counterparts. Total life expectancy will reach 72 years in 2020 and surpass 80 years sometime in the 2040′s, with the gender gap narrowing from 13 years today to 7 years at the end.

The age structure will not be radically different from the first scenario, the main difference being in more children and fewer workers. On the other hand workers will still make up 60% of the population by 2050 so there is no cause for worry. The birth rate will surpass the death rate for the years 2012-25, but will fall slightly below it for the remainder of the period. However, migration will cause the overall population to grow throughout the whole period.

High Improvement Scenario

  • 1st mortality coefficients = 0.05; 2nd mortality coefficients = 0.025
  • Fertility. 2006: 1.4, 2020: 2.4, 2030: 2.4, 2050: 1.9; age-specific fertility convergence with the Netherlands by 2020
  • 300,000 immigrants through to 2025; then 500,000 to 2050

Total population dynamics

Age-specific death rates

Life expectancy (female and male)

Birth and death rates

Age structure

Life expectancy

The population should start growing around 2010, surpass 150mn by 2025 and reach 168mn by 2050. Death rates amongst both sexes will converge to Swedish levels before 2050. Life expectancy will reach 75 years in 2020 and nearly 84 years by the middle of the century.

The working age share of the population will dip below 60% around 2030, rise slightly and plunge to 57% by 2050, the extra places being taken up by youngsters (17%) and older people (26%). The birth rate will remain above the death rate from 2012 until the late 2040′s, and natural population growth will be further boosted by migratory inflows.


The final question is, which of the above scenarios is most likely?

The fertility rate has soared since 2006 and will likely surpass 1.5 this year. While it has been boosted (or rather, brought forward) by the recent introduction of generous maternity benefits, I believe this is a sustainable trend. (The Low scenario, however, treats it as a one-off whose effects will fade away in time). Recall the first post, where we estimated Russia’s ‘planned fertility’ to be 1.95 and its ‘desired fertility’ 2.44 (as such, the Medium scenario reflects the former and the High scenario, the latter). As such I think it likely that as economic development continues fertility will rise to a level somewhere between those two figures, before beginning to decline again as is the case in most rich countries. My instinctive feeling is that it will be closer to the Medium than to the High scenario, however.

The mortality rate has registered significant improvements in 2007, although progress has ceased in the first five months of 2008. On the other hand as we saw in the second post rapid and sustained improvements in mortality are possible, as in North Karelia from 1970 to 1995, or in Estonia recently, which raised its life expectancy from it’s post-Soviet low of 66.6 years in 1994, to its typical Soviet value of 69.7 in 1998, and has since further boosted it to 73.0 by 2005. As such, Putin’s call in February 2008 to ‘do everything in our power to bring about a more than 1.5-fold reduction in the death rate, and to raise the average life expectancy to 75 years by 2020′ is achievable, and his sentiment that ‘we will succeed in stabilising the population over the coming 3-4 years’ also seems realistic, given the recent fertility rise. Therefore, I think that mortality will improve along a path somewhere between the Medium and High scenarios, perhaps with a bias for the High.

As we discussed in the second post, a big unknown was the AIDS epidemic. Since then, however, I’ve found this comprehensive report on the subject. Suffice to say we’re not heading into an African-level epidemic any time soon and as such I was justified in discounting excess deaths from AIDS mortality in the model (which peaked in 2006 and has since fallen sharply, while the peak of new infections was reached back in 2001).

Migration nearly reached 300,000 last year and for the first five months of 2008 has been higher 16% higher than in the equivalent period back then. As such, I think a figure of 300,000 per year is justified. While the flow from CIS countries will dry up in time, as Russia becomes a developed country many more people from the far abroad will want to move in. In particular, global warming will open up vast new areas for settlement. Coupled with climate change-related devastation in inundated Bangladesh, the parched Sahel and perhaps even the environmental collapse of parts of China and India (due to the melting of the Himalayan glaciers that sustain their great rivers), the world may see a tide of refugees fleeing to northern countries with lower population densities and untapped resources. In this case, in the later part of our simulation we could see migratory inflows to Russia reach half a million (as in the High scenario), a million, millions or even tens of millions per year, should there be catastrophic failure in the planetary climate system and no available techno-fix.

Which leads us to the main question – in the next fifty years, as both technological progress and environmental destruction speed up exponentially, which will win? Will civilization leave behind deserts, as predicted by the French philosopher Chateaubriand, perhaps with only the plastic detritus of its latter-day consumerist orgies, scattered in the sands as the only banal testament to the sublime grandeur of collapsed civilization; or will we plant new forests in cyberspace and transcend into the leafy realms of the technological singularity even as the world we leave behind withers into the desert of the real? The point I’m making is that, given the magnitude of the creative and destructive trends currently at work, making predictions about 2050 is fraught with uncertainties. Transhumanists believe we will have upgraded our bodies and reached acturial escape velocity, when life expectancy goes up by more than a year, every year (in effect, people grow younger, as measured by their chances of dying at any particular age). Malthusians believe that vital industrial and agricultural resources would have become exhausted, vaccines will fail against ever evolving pathogens and mortality will soar as war, pestilence and famine insert themselves back into society with a vengeance. As such, a Transformation scenario accounting for this panoply of trends, will be extremely hard to model and extends well beyond demography into areas like economics, sociology, etc.

But back to Earth, I will make some concrete, falsifiable demographic predictions (something Russophobes going on about Russia’s impending demographic doom wisely avoid doing).

  1. Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest.
  2. Natural population increase will occur starting from 2013 at the latest.
  3. Russia’s total life expectancy will exceed 68 years by 2010 and reach 75 years by 2020.
  4. The gap between male and female life expectancy will decrease by 2010.
  5. The share of Russia’s working age population will peak around 2010 at about 72%.
  6. AIDS will not affect more than 1% of the population.

That is all, for now. Feel free to comment and offer feedback.

If you want to, you can give me some key data (e.g. your idea of how fertility will change, the rate of mortality decline, etc) so that I can run them through the model and tell you how that would play out over fifty years.

(Republished from Sublime Oblivion by permission of author or representative)
No Items Found
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.