Two interesting facts:
1) After sharply negative growth last year, Russia’s growth is predicted to exceed 6% this year. Okay, that’s just clawing back what they lost. But it’s still better than almost anywhere else in Eastern Europe.
2) For the first time in many, many years Russia’s population grew slightly: by a little over 20,000 people in 2009.
This growth is a combination of a slight downturn in the death rate, a noticeable uptick in the birth rate, and a sharp rise in immigration — it hit a ten year high, with about 240,000 people moving into Russia.
So: short-term blip, or sustainable?
The economy, I have no idea. Even Russia specialists get that stuff wrong, and I’m not a Russia specialist. (Or an economist.) I will say, I see no compelling reason for Russia’s growth to stall out in the next couple of years.
The demographics, well. That gets interesting.
First, take a few minutes and go over to Sublime Oblivion and read this post. That sets out the “pro” view pretty clearly — and, yes, knocks some myths on the head. (Russia’s AIDS epidemic, horrific as it is, is not going to have a major impact on Russian demography; Muslims are not taking over Russia; China is not taking over Siberia; Russia is not going to lose a third of its population in the next 40 years.Russians are not “disinvesting in the future”.) More generally, I think Anatoly does a pretty good job of debunking the more apocalyptic scenarios that have been advanced.
That said, Russia still has a major, major demographic problem. The uptick in the birthrate is mostly driven by a “tempo” effect — young women who delayed childbirth for a few years are now having kids. The number of women 18-35 is still small. And it’s about to crash as the relatively large group of women born in the late 1970s and early 1980s leave their peak childbearing years, and are replaced by the “empty cohorts” of the 1990s. The tempo effect can delay this reckoning, but it’s coming nonetheless.
Anatoly thinks Russia’s population will grow modestly by 2050. I find this, not impossible, but unlikely. He’s relying heavily on immigration — in his model, about 15 million of his 2050 Russians will be immigrants or their children. I think that’s improbable — and if it does happen, most of those immigrants will not be ethnic Russians. (Most of the ethnic Russians in the former USSR have already moved back to Russia. The remaining large groups, in Ukraine and the Baltic states, seem inclined to stay where they are.)
In the short term, a rise in the birthrate is going to increase the dependency rate (the number of children and non-working elderly per working adult). But this is less of a problem in Russia than in countries with a broad cradle-to-grave welfare state. And from an economic POV, I suspect the rising birthrate is more important as an indicator than as an input.
Incidentally, Anatoly’s blog is an interesting, provocative labor of love; I disagree with him on a lot of points, but if you’re interested in a macro-look at Russia with a side order of challenging speculation, he’s definitely worth a look.
Speaking of provocative things that used to be worth a look, Vanity Fair has an interesting piece on the late Exile. I can’t say I miss the Exile, exactly… except I kinda sorta do. The signal-to-noise ratio was very low, but every so often they’d publish stuff that was (1) good, and (2) something you couldn’t find, ever, anywhere else.
Anyway: 2010, shaping up to be a much better year for Russia than 2009.