Russia on the rebound

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.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Economics and demography and tagged by Douglas Muir. Bookmark the permalink.

About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

23 thoughts on “Russia on the rebound

  1. If you look at the graph on Wikipedia displaying
    demographic data for Russia it appears to describe in part a local minimum. The growth of the population was to be expected if the graph represented this trend.

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  3. Very interesting. On the immigration front, there would have to be changes to allow more non ethnic Russians to immigrate. That seems obvious to me but is a potentially huge problem given the rather vicious nationalism and racism that the government has been promoting, at least implicitly, over the last 10 years or so. I’d be surprised to see it happen.

  4. There are already large numbers of non-Russian immigrants in Russia: Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Armenians, Azeris. And the numbers are only going to grow.

    The problem is, while they may to some extent integrate, they’re not going to assimilate and they’re not going to naturalize. So in a decade or two, you could have a Russia that looks like a vastly scaledup Greece, where 10% of the population and 20% of the workforce consists of non-citizen, non-native gastarbeitern.

    Doug M.

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  6. Oh, I know there are lots of non ethnic Russians living there- I lived there for a few years, my wife is from there, we own an apartment there, and go back fairly regularly. But many of these are illegal and can’t naturalize (even legal ones have a hard time), and only ethnic Russians are recruited, even though that’s mostly a waste of time now. Recruiting (or even just legalizing and naturalizing) non ethnic Russians would be smarter, but it won’t happen because of the large number of vicious racists, stoked in their fears by the government. Too bad for Russia.

  7. Ethnicity’s no longer such a major issue defining migration into Russia as potential economic gains and fluency in the Russian language.

    Russophones in the Baltic States have few incentives to immigrate to Russia and quite a few to move within the Schengen Zone and elsewhere in the EU. Ukrainians are very often fluent in Russian, although there seems to be a tendency for Ukrainians from the Russophone east to move to Russia while Ukrainians from the west go to the European Union. Migrants from the South Caucasus to Russia are overwhelmingly non-Slav by this point, as are the labour migrants from southern Central Asia.

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  9. C’mon everyone, tell me it is easier or faster to get assimilated or naturalized if you are legal in the US, mush less so otherwise. I can surely see lots of proof for that while walking to and back from the subway here in Astoria Queens. The immigration bureaucracy is slow and underfunded and the laws are prohibitive and defensive everywhere, the whole issue has nothing to do with the alleged ‘vicious’ nationalism, which in fact is much less of an issue in Russia than it is in many places in the West or in the Baltic states.

  10. @Matt: If you look at international migration numbers (which count only people who got a year-long or longer visas, and thus are counted as having changed their abode), migrants from ‘Slavic’ Belarus and Ukraine are typically around 20% of the total. The rest is from Central Asia and Caucasus. Migration from Baltics is negligible.

    Naturalization picked up in the last 3-4 years, after the corresponding law was relaxed somewhat. Number of foreigners getting Russian citizenship is almost twice as high as net international migration, meaning that many long-term inhabitants finally are making step to naturalization. This, actually, suggests that there is a huge potential for increased legal migration, as the number of foreigners permanently living in Russia is significantly higher than official one, and about 2 million people per year worth of illegals is a gap that’s semi-officially admitted by the migration authorities. A small relaxation of the rules would lead to flood of registering migration, without changing anything on the ground.

  11. Thanks for the mention, Douglas.

    My main intention in writing about Russia’s demography is to debunk the cataclysmic scenarios of rapid decline and national disintegration promoted by serious analysts like Eberstadt, and not so serious ones like Steyn, which is what passes for commentary on the issue in the Western press. I hope I have been somewhat successful in this – for instance, none of these oft-quoted experts forecast Russia’s population growing again by 2009.

    Actually making realistic population forecasts for Russia is a secondary goal (and a much harder one). I agree that there can be a real debate about whether Russia’s population in 2025, say, will be closer to 135mn or 145mn, and about the precise details of its future fertility, mortality, and migration trajectories. I would like to stress that my “prediction” of 150mn people in Russia by 2050 isn’t so much a prediction, as one of several possible scenarios*.

    Though 15mn migrants and children-of-migrants sounds like a big number, it is only about 10% of Russia’s population. Many European nations (which were certainly no less xenophobic than Russia today, back in the 1960’s when the migratory inflows started going strong) already have similar percentages of foreign-born residents. So I wouldn’t say such a figure is at all unrealistic under a business-as-usual scenario.

    * In practice, demography is an example of a complex human system and as such, IMO, attempting to make projections over a period of time longer than a single generation at most is largely futile, due to the inevitability of discontinuities. Since I am a proponent of the “Limits to Growth” concept (Meadows 2004) and think global warming will be much severe than commonly imagined, I actually suspect pretty much all the conventional demographic scenarios will turn out to be wrong or lacking. Russia might well end up acquiring hundreds of millions of people by the end of the century due to huge climate refugee inflows, and may even transform into a caste-like theocracy to ensure the political dominance of ethnic Russians who become a minority in the new super-state. Or not. Since the 21st century will be full of discontinuities, there can be no certainties.

  12. I am less optimistic.
    This crisis tought the economically active Russians a lot. They remain where they are now only for the lack of liquid assets. The stronger gets the econimy the more economically active (and thus ready to have children) people will postpone births. They will save money with the specific purpose to emigrate and have children at the new country of choice to make them instant citizens to qualify for the local welfare system.

  13. “I actually suspect pretty much all the conventional demographic scenarios will turn out to be wrong or lacking.”

    You’re familiar with the League of Nations population projection from the late 1920s that expected the French population to fall to some 28 million by 1980?

    We can narrow down projections, sure, but past a certain point–in time or in precision–it’s a bit ludicrous.

  14. @Randy,

    I knew France had a very early fertility transition and that its population was stagnant in the first half of the 20th century, but no, I wasn’t aware of that remarkable projection in particular. It demonstrates the fallacy of linear extrapolation very well. Could you please provide a link or citation? (I’d be very glad to have it for future debates).

  15. Mr. Muir, there are four serious problems with any analysis that would focus on “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.”

    First, such an analysis would be relying on data generated by the Russian Kremlin, which is ruled by a proud KGB spy, a trained liar. It would imply that if things were getting worse, he wouldn’t lie. That’s just plain silly.

    Second, it would overlook the fact that Russia still has FAR more people perishing than being born because life in Russia remains horrifically dangerous.

    Third, immigration can in no way solve any Russian problem because Russians hate foreigners. Dozens and dozens of blacks are butchered every year just for being black.

    And fourth, the ONLY people arguing that Russia is having a demographic rebound are rabid, pro-Putin fanatics like Mr. Karlin (whose bias ought to have been better disclosed by you). ALL the real scientists, starting with Murray Feshbach, know that there is no magic bullet which will turn Russia’s situation around and no serious social policy at all has been undertaken by the Kremlin.

    The fact is, the Putin Kremlin likes Russia sick and weak. True, it makes it harder for Russia to dominate the globe. But it makes it much, much easier for Putin to maintain his power. Strong healthy people would be much more likely to join a protest movement and embrace democratic values, the last thing in the world Putin wants. It’s so much easier to lie and repress, the tactics Putin learned throughout his life.

  16. Well, this should be interesting.

    A gentle reminder: moderated forum. Play nice.

    Doug M.

  17. Phoby, Phoby, Phoby…

    Have you found a discrepancy in the vital statistics published by RosStat? I thought not. Have you a better source of vital statistics than RosStat? I thought not. Yet again, you are all mouth and no facts.

    Natural population decrease in Russia is the smallest it has been in about 15 years, and is only a little more than a quarter of what it was ten years ago. There are prospects for natural increase in Russia soon. This is a signal accomplishment, though it is gall and wormwood for you given your oft-expressed contempt for Russians. No wonder you seek refuge in denial.

    Immigration to Russia is substantial, and has been for several years. You may want to reconsider your unsupported blanket statement that “Russians hate foreigners.” You won’t of course. That “all mouth and no facts” thing of yours rears its ugly head again.

    The social policy undertaken by the Kremlin has been to break the political power of the Oligarchs and force them to submit to the State taxing the energy price windfall out of their hands. One of the things the Russian government has done with the money has been to fund public health measures and the healthcare system. As a result, life expectancy has been rising.

    As to the health of Russians, Gorbachev set a national example of sobriety, and that had an impact. While he was President, Putin set a national example of sobriety and athleticism. He continues to do so as Prime Minister, and that has an impact.

    You know, someone could find out a lot about Russia by assuming that the opposite of what you say is the case.

  18. In response to LR’s “arguments”:

    Pts. 1, 3, and 4 are all essentially truthiness fallacies (as well as many others), and as such undeserving of a proper response.

    In satire, truthiness is a “truth” that a person claims to know intuitively “from the gut” without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.

    The only directly refutable “argument” is pt.2; a look at the statistics will show that in 2009, the ratio of deaths to births was 1.1:1, which does not support the contention that “Russia still has FAR more people perishing than being born”.


    Oligarchs are a social and economic problem, not a demographic one.


    I do not know of any cases where rising national wealth caused higher emigration.

  19. “I do not know of any cases where rising national wealth caused higher emigration.”

    Actually, there have been a lot of cases where rising national wealth was clearly correlated with higher emigration.

    I don’t think any of them are relevant to early 21st century Russia, but it’s definitely a thing that can happen.

    Doug M.

  20. Doug Muir wrote:

    Well, this should be interesting.

    It’s not, really. You do know, of course, Zigfeld’s… sorry, “La Russophobe’s” track record, right? This is the same intellectual who delights in calling Russia “a nation of whores”.

    A gentle reminder: moderated forum. Play nice.

    Considering LR’s modus operandi, I’d suggest gagging the idiot with a permanent IP-ban. The lady already has a propaganda forum of her own; why give her another one?

    FWIW, I’m making this simply as a humble suggestion, as a complete outsider. Assuming that it matters, I’ve also written a couple of published articles criticizing the policies of our eastern neighbour (one of them in the link embedded in my name), and I’ve got paid for it.


    J. J.

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