Among many other demographic problems, Russia is confronting a rapidly ageing population. Since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has fallen from having the 6th largest population in the world to 9th. By 2050, it will fall to 15th place. Population size is only one of a number of attributes that contribute to a country’s status, but it is an important one.
This decline has been driven by several factors. Russian women are having fewer babies, with the birthrate declining from the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman in 1989, to a low of 1.2 in 1999, before increasing again to 1.6.
Life expectancy for men fell from an already low level of 64.9 years in 1987 to 57.5 in 1994. The female life expectancy advantage in Russia is the largest in the world with women outliving men by 12 years, largely due to the high male death rate from cardiovascular diseases and external causes such as murder, suicide, accidents and poisonings. The excess of deaths over births is partly compensated for by an influx of migrants from other parts of the former Soviet Union.
All this has resulted in the Russian population falling from a peak of 148.6 million in 1993 to 142.9 million.
Recent attention has focused on Russia’s re-emergence as a global political force, fuelled by resource-driven economic growth. But simultaneous population decline and ageing will become a serious drag on economic growth, with the State budget burdened by increased costs for pensions and health care for the elderly. By 2040, Russia’s median age will be 44.9, placing it among the oldest countries in the former Soviet Union and close to the oldest in the world.
The Russian leadership is aware of the seriousness of these problems and has put forward measures to deal with them.
These include pro-natal policies to increase the birth rate, anti-smoking, antialcohol and other measures to decrease mortality and increase the length of healthy life years, and efforts at better-managed migration.
The Year of the Family was declared in 2008 and a public relations campaign was mounted to encourage larger families. A package of pro-natalist policies was introduced, designed to halt or reverse the steep decline in Russia’s birthrate. The package included more generous benefits for a second child, together with longer maternity leave.
These policies had little effect: the fertility rate was already beginning to increase before they were implemented and has risen only slightly since.
Russian men are among the world’s largest consumers of alcohol and tobacco. Mortality levels and patterns of death and disease in Russia are far out of line for a country at its level of development.
Raising the pension age has not received serious consideration in Russia as it has in other post-Soviet states.
There has been an increase in the percentage of ‘foreign born’ in Russia which now stands at 9 per cent of the population, due to continued immigration of nonnative groups and a natural decrease of ethnic Russians.
The Kremlin’s migration policy has undergone a number of reversals. Immediately after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the focus was on assistance to the 25 million ethnic Russians in the non-Russian states of the former USSR. When Russia realized that it was becoming overrun with foreign workers in the early 2000s, it sought to restrict migration. In more recent years as the demographic decline kicked in, the state has sought to encourage regulated migration. Like many other countries, Russia has had difficulty incorporating migrants of different ethnic and racial backgrounds on either a permanent or temporary basis.
Some of Russia’s recent policies will have a limited demographic effect and recent trends are moving in a positive direction. But it appears that Russia will inevitably need to adjust to a smaller and older population.