Paul Goble reports:
Moscow officials this week have been celebrating figures showing that for the first time in 15 years, Russia’s population did not decline in 2009, but a leading Russian demographer warns that this statistic, while true, is neither the result of President Dmitry Medvedev’s pro-natalist policies or the harbinger of an end to the decline. Instead, Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Moscow Institute of Demography, says, this year’s figure reflects a conjunction of positive developments that will not last and that within five years, Russia will again see its population fall, unless Russian can attract and are prepared to accept more immigrants.
Tatyana Golikova, Russian health and social development minister, reported that the population of Russia at the end of 2009 was the same or possibly 15-25 thousand more than it was at the end of 2008, the first time that has happened since 1995. And President Dmitry Medvedev even spoke about the possibility of increasing the Russian population by 2025. Vishnevsky said that “in reality, there has been a certain improvement in demographic processes” in Russia both regards births and deaths, but he said that “the future will be defined not by these” and that in his best judgment, “the country is approaching the edge of a demographic abyss.”
The reason for that, he continues, has to do with the age structure of the population. For the last decade, the situation had been relatively favorable: “the number of young women who bear children had increased and the number of elderly people had declined. But now this resource is exhausted, and the situation is turning toward the other side.”
Young women entering prime child-bearing age cohorts now were born in the 1990s, “and there were few of them.” That means, Vishnevsky points out, that for the foreseeable future, there will be few potential mothers.” And at the same time, as a result of higher birthrates in the 1940s and 1950s, the number of elderly will grow. And that not only means that the number of elderly and children that every worker will have to “carry” will increase, but also that “the natural decline” of the population “will beyond question begin to increase” as well, something that makes “unreal” Golikova’s suggestion that the population will grow by several million before 2025.
The only way for those predictions to be realized, he continues, is to compensate for the natural losses with immigration, something that is increasingly difficult both because many Russians are opposed to the only groups now interested in coming, people from Central Asia and the Caucasus. Vishnevsky is dismissive of Golikova’s suggestion that the birthrate could be boosted 20 percent by a ban on abortions and that the current stabilization reflected the government’s social support measures. Neither of these ideas bears scrutiny, he says. Banning abortions is “a utopia” and would not lead to anything like that kind of a boost of the birthrate. And the government’s social programs may affect when a woman will have a child but are unlikely to affect how many children she will choose to have. Consequently, the demographer says, if these measures cause women to have more children now, it may mean that they will have even fewer later, thus making the coming declines even steeper.