Russian Demographics

Just wanted to add a small note to Edward’s ongoing demographic discussion. Lance Knobel quotes Murray Feshbach, an honest-to-goodness expert on Russian demography.

If anything I would now say that I was underestimating the losses to the population of Russia in the future. The current official projection (medium) by the Russian State Statistical Agency is some 101 million in 2050. [July 2005 estimate of current population is 143 million.] My expectation is that the number will be closer to 75-80, approximately the level of worst-case scenario. The current and imminent number of deaths from HIV/AIDS is much worse than anticipated, as well as the number of deaths from tuberculosis. In addition, hepatitis C deaths will, ceteris paribus, begin to be devastating at the end of the next decade. None of these health factors were incorporated into the projection model of the Statistical Agency.

On the other hand, a company I write about is working on a hepatitis C vaccine that, if all goes well, could enter the market shortly after 2010. Still, the outlook for Russia is rough.

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About Doug Merrill

Freelance journalist based in Tbilisi, following stints in Atlanta, Budapest, Munich, Warsaw and Washington. Worked for a German think tank, discovered it was incompatible with repaying US student loans. Spent two years in financial markets. Bicycled from Vilnius to Tallinn. Climbed highest mountains in two Alpine countries (the easy ones, though). American center-left, with strong yellow dog tendencies. Arrived in the Caucasus two weeks before its latest war.

34 thoughts on “Russian Demographics

  1. “Still, the outlook for Russia is rough.”

    Yes, very rough. This is why I don’t think that Russia is one of Goldman Sachs’ BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China). The demography is completely off. With the intensity of the comments on the fertility trap post you may or may not have picked up the basis for the crash that I speculated about.

    Essentially offsetting fertility decline may be a combination of two factors (apart from immigration): child support, and equal ops households. Now the eastern block were quite good at the former, but the research seems to suggest that in terms of male attitudes in the home they were hopeless on the second. So when the social welfare system collapsed after 1988, the fertility just went into a crash.

    This show s two things. One, that simplistic market vs social economy arguments are dangerous, as societies can simply ‘blow up’ (adam smith’s hidden hand forgets Malthus, or what we now know, neo-Malthus). And secondly, the irresponsibility of these structural break type interventions to try and change societies.

    We are already seeing the difficulty in Iraq of all this, but I think the earlier intervention may have been even more irresponsible. Much better the China approach.

    Zbigniew Brezinski notoriously claimed that he personally provoked Russia into Afghanistan to bring down the wall. Well, now we know who to blame for Russia’s melt down.

    This must be ‘causality’ week, because here we can see that some causal processes have a long arm, reaching well beyond their immediate environment.

    In fact I don’t know if you have seen Wender’s ‘Land of Plenty’. The anti-hero says at one point ‘We won in Vietnam’. Now you could read this as trying to paint him as a ‘whacko’, but maybe there’s another reading. Maybe he did win, maybe Vietnam in the end ‘turned the tide’, and the tsunami just came back to drown Russia.

    Irresponsibility, that’s what I’d call it.

  2. What’s the big deal? So Russia will get smaller, weaker, and (something you didn’t say but is also true) way more ethnically diverse (since ethnic minorities in Russia have much higher birth rates in general).

    Obviously we don’t want people to suffer, but I don’t see why we should want a strong Russia. A strong Russia is invariably bad for its neighbors (see Katyn massacre, gulag, Baltic states, Vyborg, Central Asia, Chechnya, North Korea).

    If the population in Russia is declining because people don’t want to have more children, well that’s their choice. If it is a vote of non-confidence in the government of Russia (which would be completely understandable), that’s their choice as well. If it is because the government of Russia is incompetent at providing for the health of its citizens, obviously that should be corrected.

    Why should I worry about a more sparsely populated Russia?

  3. “Why should I worry about a more sparsely populated Russia?”

    Well apart from the obvious, that letting a resource rich Russia drift into anarchy (I mean look what happened to Germany after the 1923 inflation) will pose more not less of a threat (but I think its a ‘done deal’ so better start worrying about how to cope with it now), you could take into account that one of the consequences of de-population would be that you will have the bear (and the wolves) at the door, in a quite literal sense. (I meant to post about this, but never got time 🙂 ).

  4. You’re assuming a lot in your response. Why does a declining population invariably lead to anarchy? And what precisely does present-day Russia have in common with 1920s Germany that would lead one to automatically assume that a fascist party will take power in Russia and try to take over the world? Do you have any historical evidence for believing that demographic decline in Russia will invariably lead to horrific outcomes? Could you please provide it?

    I have to say that bears and wolves retaking some areas that were historically farmed does not seem to me to be a great crisis. Presumably it can rather effectively be dealt with.

    I’m really serious about this. Why should I care that Russia’s population is declining and its objective power in the world is also declining. I don’t think a strong Russia is in anyone’s interests, including Russians, at least judging from the historical evidence. After all, a strong Soviet Union didn’t exactly do great things for them, and the demographic declines everyone is talking about started under the Soviet regime anyway in the late 70s.

  5. One final point. It is not correct that one can trace Russia’s demographic decline to the end of the Soviet Union. Some of the transition years did exacerbate the transition, but the declines in life expectancy started in the late 70s, as did the birth rate. Really it was Brezhnev and his successors who started the ball rolling. Some of the birth rate decline is directly traceable to the use of abortions as the only effective birth control measure – many Soviet women had seven or eight abortions in their lifetimes.

    So you can’t blame all of Russia’s current problems on the transition. A lot of it was inherent in the processes of the late Soviet period.

  6. @ Hektor

    Look I think two discussions are going on at once here. I think you should check out the comments section on my fertility trap post. Also read the Lutz presentation. For this discussion slide 15 is the important one. Firstly there is a global? demographic transition. This is happening to one degree or another in all countries. The thing is the East European situation is particularly complicated.

    Now…you will see from the slide that the eastern countries were drifting hap`pily downwards to a TFR of around 2, when plaf, there was a structural break, and they went into tailspin. The rest is explained in the other comments thread.

    On the economic consequneces of this, I don’t expect you to swallow it just because I am saying it, but follow my posts, there is a coherent argument. You could try this post:

    Now on the economics side (I think you need a systems type model to get to this) lets try a ‘quick and dirty’ explanation.

    Following Solow you could describe economic growth as

    Y = Af(K,L). Y is income, K is capital, L is labour, and A can be anything you like, but think about technology.

    What this means is growth is a product of more inputs of capital and labour using a technological organisation which produces more productivity. Kapital is a function of saving, which is a function of income, which is a function of people working.

    So K and L are both going to *shrink*, and with an ageing workforce the evidence suggests that productivity will also decline. That means that people in Russia will get steadily poorer, hence the drift into anarchy. I don’t suppose anything as brief as this will satisfy you, but there you are. I am convinced. Poverty does not breed happy people.

  7. Plus the fact that Russia is a Nuclear power. Less boots on the ground means more nuclear tipped rockets to go round.

    Ironically, the lower life expectancy will also mean they have to worry less about old age dependency and support ratios. I don’t really envy them though. 😐

  8. Y = Af(K,L). Y is income, K is capital, L is labour, and A can be anything you like, but think about technology.

    Shouldn’t the efficiency at which you can replace labor with capital depend on technology?
    So rather Y= f(AK, AL)

    Poverty does not breed happy people.

    However an ageing and poor population has a hard time fielding an army.

  9. “However an ageing and poor population has a hard time fielding an army.”

    Who needs an army when you have a nuclear arsenal to fall back on?

    Remember, the NPT is going nowhere right now…

  10. “Shouldn’t the efficiency at which you can replace labor with capital depend on technology?
    So rather Y= f(AK, AL)”

    Oh, look, this is the endogenous model, the difference isn’t important for this issue. For technical reasons (things like exploding growth) I tend to go along with Solow’s critiques, but as I said this was just ‘quick and dirty’.

    “Who needs an army when you have a nuclear arsenal to fall back on?”

    Yes, and I think the international criminal/terrorism implications are big. I don’t think the USSR ‘just’ has a nuclear arsenal, there will be chemical and biological too. We don’t want another Iraq in Russia.

    Then there are the internal wars, like Chechenya.

  11. First of all, I am by no means convinced that Russia ‘s demographic trends are the same as other nations, so comparing it to Hungary, for example, won’t wash. Russia’s birth rate declined much earlier and has gone much further. That’s why I point to the Brezhnev period as important. Look at the data for Russia itself and you’ll see what I mean. So “the end of communism” as a general all-purpose bugaboo is not going to wash. The trends were clear in the early 80s, when I visited, for example. So I don’t accept this part of your analysis, since Lutz has no data for Russia (or Ukraine or Georgia or even Kazakhstan), for example, in the presentation.

    As for the economic angle, I might agree with you in the long term, but we don’t have any idea how to predict the long-term demographics of Russia. All projections past about 20 years or so are essentially completely untrustworthy, because they are usually just extrapolations of existing trends with a fudge factor. However, in the short term, right now, when Russia’s population continues to decline, their economy is growing steadily. So it is certainly true that one can have a declining population and economic growth. If we look at per-capita GDP, the picture is even better.

    What do you mean, another Iraq in Russia? Russia and Iraq have almost nothing in common besides oil wealth as far as I can tell.

    This whipping up of hysteria is neither helpful nor wise.

  12. Edward-
    I’m not sure I understand the connection between Iraq & Russia either. I’ve seen you make this point elsewhere. Is this an Afghanistan/Iraq/Russia parallel, where lawlessness and redicalism lead to some sort of terrorist/extremist training ground?

    Islands of instability are in no one’s interest, especially ones that cover 11 timezones, and border so many other volitile regions (Mideast, Cent Asia), not to mention the nukes factor.

    I’ve seen the “Germany in the 1920s” comparison before, going back into the 1990s. This analogy is partially useful, but there are important differences, primarily that Germany was still an ascendent power in the 20s, while Russia has been indisputably declining. However in both countries there feeling of lost glory, stab in the back, distrust of and blame arbitrarily assigned to “outsiders”, not to mention the economic instability (which will only worsen as there are relatively fewer workers to support pensioners and the like). In the 90s the rise of Zhirinovsky represented this fear, but with the current administration trying to co-opt him it could be even more in the realm of possibility.

    But at least the current regime is under the delusion it could reclaim its former esteem and glory. One that acknowledged Russia’s decline and decided to act irrationally to restore it to its “proper place” could be unpredictable and dangerous. I believe there’s been talk here about difference between countries that hope and those that remember, Russia is perpetually enthralled with its glorious past.

  13. Edward –
    Yes of course K and L are both shrinking. But it’s Y/L, not Y, that determines individual prosperity (abstracting from dependency ratios, etc) and therefore its the relations between dL, dK and A – precisely the things that are orthogonal in Solow-Swan – that matters for individuals. In fact, the long-lived parts of the capital stock (roads, houses, bridges, past education, etc) built for a larger population should cause decline in the capital stock to be slower than the decline in the population – K/L could easily rise.

    So, yes, Russian GDP is going to shrink. But you haven’t made a case that Russian GDP *per capita* must shrink, beyond the (dubious, IMO) proposition that older workers are less productive and that the dependency ratio could continue to raise – just as in the rest of the developed world).

    FWIW, I think you can make a stronger case for economic decline in aged societies by simply assuming innovation, and hence A, is a product of youth – the old are not great lovers of creative destruction. Its something casual empiricism (eg US versus Germany) tends to support.

  14. @ Hektor

    “Russia’s birth rate declined much earlier and has gone much further.”

    First of all, I have a rule: never be afraid to admit that you may be wrong. Russia, as you say isn’t in the presentation. I had made the mistake of assuming it was like the rest, since – even taking Hungary’s exceptionalism – they are all relatively similar. But….never assume. First lesson. So I will try and look around later, and get back, but I concede: you may well be right about it starting earlier. That it has gone deeper I doubt, since in all the UN projections material TFRs for Russia seem to be broadly the same as the others except – maybe – that they get no life expectancy boost. Incidentally note the post the other day about East Germany, and how life expectancy has gone up dramatically *since* re-unification.

    “However, in the short term, right now, when Russia’s population continues to decline, their economy is growing steadily. So it is certainly true that one can have a declining population and economic growth. If we look at per-capita GDP, the picture is even better.”

    This I accept, but just how much of this is oil and other natural resources would be interesting to know. Curiously it has started to weaken again in the last six months. There is much less FDI now going into Russia, due, of course to the lack of institutional guarantees.

    “So it is certainly true that one can have a declining population and economic growth.”

    Well the question would be: is this sustainable. Obviously with so much unemployment, you can soak up a lot of surplus labour initially, but then you hit a limit as the labour force starts to decline. Interestingly enough Japan is at this point now. Unemployment is declining as more and more people pass the 75 barrier (yes, in Japan the same % of people already work to 75 as in Europe work to 65 today). Consumption is getting a little lift as the tightening in labour market conditions this produces pushes up wage costs, although there is no inflation impact since these costs have to be absorbed in company balance sheets given that Japan is trapped in deflation. This kind of thing can of course happen in Russia. What I doubt you will see is any sustained growth in internal demand in Russia. It will need to be export driven, and in part this is what all the talk about ‘imbalances’ is about.

    @ James

    “I’m not sure I understand the connection between Iraq & Russia either.”

    Well again look, what I am sceptical about are simple (one might say simplistic) radical solutions of the sort that often become the focus of US foreign policy. I am for more pragmatic and subtle policy (maybe Uzbekistan now would be an example, and maybe it will work, maybe).

    Take something like Argentina. People grab a single issue – the dollar-peso peg – say it is the ‘cure all’, and of course it is, till it isn’t, if you get my meaning. Bang, and the whole thing comes crashing down. You need a scalpel, not a blunt instrument to change the world.

    So this is where the Iraq/Eastern Europe comparison comes in as far as I am conmcerned, it relates to a way of doing things.

    I think we can all take it as read that changing things in Eastern Europe was necessary, but maybe you needed a more gradual transition economically speaking, with the investment of a lot more resources to facilitate the transition. Blind faith in markets would be another issue. I favour market economies, but not to the point of dogmatism. A country which doesn’t guarantee a stable population evolution (which doesn’t mean you can’t have a measured decline, globally this may even be beneficial, but it needs ot be that, measured and sustainable. Crashes are disastrous), well a country which doesn’t guarantee a stable population evolution can’t be a prosperous country, and the market mechanism doesn’t guarantee stable population, it needs stable population in order to function well, so I think the whole affair should have been handled more delicately, more resources invested to back the transition, and more pragmatism and less ideology generally.

    The same goes for Iraq. Once the WMD isssue flew out of the window, there should have been a more pragmatic approach. Goya supported Napoleon’s attempt to bring democracy with Bayonets to Spain, but he had to do this from the comparative safety of Bordeaux, France. This kind of radicalism, changing a country with a centuries old hegemony of one minority group isn’t going to happen overnight. Probably it would have been better to strike a deal with the Baath party, and move forward from there. Of course, probably we should never have gone in, and should have spent all that money on factories and schools or whatever in Iraq to break Saddam from the inside – I simply don’t think embargoes are effective in changing things, look at Cuba – but all of this would be another story.

    Again I would compare Iraq and Russia on another front: the rogue states issue. Apart from the obvious, that Russia was there backing Saddam, and playing with the situation, the internal economic and population issues will probably – as you suggest – turn Russia into even more of a rogue state. They are no longer communists, they are certainly not an ‘islamic republic’, but they do have a very deep, ingrained and virulent anti-Americanism.

  15. “Yes of course K and L are both shrinking.”

    Oh, hi DD, I’d seen your posts from time to time over at Brad Delong’s blog, always found them interesting and to the point. You have obviously ‘got it’. Welcome.


    “But it’s Y/L, not Y, that determines individual prosperity (abstracting from dependency ratios, etc) and therefore its the relations between dL, dK and A – precisely the things that are orthogonal in Solow-Swan – that matters for individuals.”

    Yes, I agree. I said it was ‘quick and dirty’.

    In terms of per capita GDP (and indeed what we call productivity) two things matter. The proportion of the population which is working (think structural reforms in Europe) and the value of the work they do (the more limited idea of productivity, how you leverage technology, and where you are in the value chain: in Europe this would be the R&D and education dimension of the Lisbon strategy).

    “K/L could easily rise.”

    This is probable (indeed in Russia it could hardly be otherwise), but this ‘capital deepening’ has well-known diminishing returns properties, so there are limits, and secondly, given the constrained internal market (and I think this is now becoming a ‘stylised fact’ about ageing) this investment has to be geared towards exports. I keep saying this, since I don’t take lightly the ‘imbalances’ problem. I take it you read Brad Setser (or Roach for that matter), and I think they are right to be concerned about global sustainability if most people become export driven, it just won’t work.

    “beyond the (dubious, IMO) proposition that older workers are less productive”

    I don’t consider this ‘dubious’. Here’s a recent piece of research:

    I’m going to p?st about this later in the week, so if you fancy dropping by…..

    “just as in the rest of the developed world).”

    No, at least not all at the same rate, and this is important. Borsch Supan likes to make the point that the US will be in 20 years where Germany is now. France and the UK have much better demography than Southern Europe. Details matter. The critical break point seems to be 1.5 TFR (see fertility trap post and Lutz presentation). So the first wave into battle as it were will be Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, Germany, Japan, maybe Switzerland.

    In addition to the ‘normal’ problems Russia and Central Europe have the add-on of very low levels of accumulated wealth. Russia in addition is outside the frontiers of the EU, is institutionally a mess, criminality is rife and a lot of other minor issues which don’t help them.

    “FWIW, I think you can make a stronger case for economic decline in aged societies by simply assuming innovation, and hence A, is a product of youth – the old are not great lovers of creative destruction. Its something casual empiricism (eg US versus Germany) tends to support.”

    There’s a lovely paper out there somewhere called “Darwin: built for comfort not for speed”, which indirectly addresses this, I’ll try and dig it out for the productivity post.

    Well I obviously agree. But think of two things… in the age of acceleration what does ‘long lived’ in terms of capital stock really mean, and why does this imply that the idea that older workers are less productive seem ‘dubious’. Obviously many aren’t (yours truly, Alan Greenspan…) when they are doing what they always have done, but accelerating technical change and structural reforms mean that they are increasingly asked to do new, more tech demanding occupations. Global labour arbitrage also comes in here.

    Well, that’s enough for now :).

  16. A point on Russian demographics that nobody has raised yet.

    If you look at a Russian age-cohort graphic, you’ll see that it wobbles wildly over the last 70 years. That’s because the Russian gross birthrate crashed during WWII, then soared afterwards. Then crashed again in the ’60s (when all the little girls who weren’t born in 1941-5 were missed), bounced up again in the early ’70s…

    Point being: the last period of half-decent gross birthrates in Russia came in the 1980s. After 1990, Russian birthrates crashed hard. So today, Russia has a lot more 25 year olds than 12 year olds.

    What this means is that the last relatively abundant generation of young Russians is entering peak childbearing years right now. The next decade or so will see Russia’s last chance to turn itself around demographically. Because after 2012 or so, peak childbearing years will start to be filled by the empty cohorts of the 1990s. Which means that even if young Russian women start having 3 or 4 kids, by then it will be too late — there just won’t be enough youg Russian women.

    Russia’s going to be in bad shape regardless. But an uptick in the birth rate now could make a big difference. Emphasis on /now/, though; there’s a window of opportunity, but it’s closing.

    Doug M.

  17. Well this paper has some interesting arguments. One thing is clear, Russia has the added special problem of high mortality, this issue is not simply fertility:

    “Russia, to be sure, is not the only European country registering more deaths than births these days?according to the Council of Europe?s numbers, fully eighteen European states currently report ?negative natural increase?. But in other European settings, the balance is often still quite close. For example: in Italy?the poster child in many current discussions of a possible depopulation of
    Europe?there are today about 103 deaths for every live 100 births. Russia, by contrast, reports 152 deaths for every 100 births in 2004?and Russia has recorded nearly 159 deaths for every 100 births for the 1992-2004 period as a whole.”

    This is the part I hadn’t been thinking about sufficiently, I have been too focused on natality. In this case the counter example of East Germany shows what might have been achieved had there been an awareness of the risk, and a more concerted policy after 1988.

  18. The following, from the above paper, also seems relevant and interesting:

    Examples of extreme surfeits of mortality over natality are, to be sure, familiar from human history?but in the past, these were witnessed only during times of famine, pestilence, war or mass disaster. As a peacetime phenomenon, it is utterly new, and while it is not unique to Russia these days?the excess of deaths over births is nearly
    as great today in Bulgaria and Latvia, and even more exaggerated in Ukraine?the Russian Federation is perhaps the most important expositor of this post-Communist demographic condition.

  19. This also seems to get to the heart of it. After 1987….

    This was when the fertility decline really took a hold, really I feel, I rest my case.

    “Russia?s abrupt and brutal swerve onto the path to depopulation began during the final crisis of the Soviet state. Over the two decades before
    Mikhail Gorbachev?s 1985 accession to power, Russia?s births regularly exceeded deaths; natural increase typically ranged 700,000 to 1,000,000 during those years. After 1987, however, births began to fall sharply, and death totals to rise. Both tendencies were further accentuated after the collapse of the USSR. 1992?the first full year of post-Communist governance for the Russia?also marked the shift to negative natural increase for the Russian Federation, with 200,000 more deaths than births. A decade later, Russia?s death total was over 50 percent higher than in 1987
    (2.3 million vs. 1.5 million), while its birth level was over million lower (1.4 million vs. 2.5 million). In 1987, Russia recorded natural increase of nearly one million (968,000); in 2002, deaths surpassed births by almost exactly the same magnitude (935,000).”

  20. @ Hektor

    “First of all, I have a rule: never be afraid to admit that you may be wrong.”

    Then there’s rule two, if you subsequently find you were probably right in the first place, then re-assert :).

    The thing is Hektor, I don’t normally make *strong* claims unless I am relatively sure. I think I didn’t appreciate the impact mortality was having, but as to fertility, the pattern seems more or less as I’ve described it:

    “Consider first Russia?s current fertility patterns. A society with the Russian Federation?s present survival schedule, according to recent official Russian calculations, requires women to bear an average of about 2.33 children per lifetime to assure population stability over successive generations. In the late Soviet era, Russian fertility levels were near replacement: ?snapshot? measures of the country?s total fertility rate fluctuated near 2 births per woman from the mid-1960s through the mid 1980s8, and in the late 1980s, Russian fertility rates briefly bumped above the net replacement rate.But with the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian fertility likewise collapsed, plummeting from 2.19 in 1986/87 to 1.17 in 1999.”

  21. A strong Russia is invariably bad for its neighbors (see Katyn massacre, gulag, Baltic states, Vyborg, Central Asia, Chechnya, North Korea).

    Perfectly agree with most of your examples, but…

    The Gulag was bad for Russia itself, and only incidentally for its neigbours.

    And how much of North Korea’s problems can actually be attributed to Russia, beyond the original establishing of Kim Il-sung ? Most of the North Korea mess is home-made.

  22. The issue of Russian demographics is also discussed here – Russia’s population implosion

    I liked this bit – {{{ – The current Russian interpretation of freedom is (instead) characterized by a narrow, individualistic permissiveness that is incompatible with collective tasks. In other words, Russia?s population crisis is one manifestation of a crisis of ideas.

    This, of course, raises the broader question of whether declining birthrates, in Russia and elsewhere, imply a crisis of the liberal idea of freedom, with its focus on individual rights?

    Clearly, liberalism may be a contributing factor, if and where it is primitively understood to entail for the individual no countervailing obligations before society. Clearly, the belief that liberalism is at fault for declining birth rates and dysfunctional families has gained currency in the West, which now produces popular books like Pat Buchanan?s The Death of the West. – }}}

    Also worth reading Weimar Russia Revisited

    {{{ – In the late 1990?s and the early years of this decade, the problems that incited fears of a dysfunctional state seemed to fade. But over the past 18 months, the specter of Weimar has once again begun to haunt Russia.

    If taken to extremes, Russian society?s response to its wrenching modernization could degenerate into a nationalist revolution led by xenophobes. A different and healthy conservative response is possible if the tattered remnants of old threads, torn apart in the course of postcommunist modernization, can reconnect and grow together in a new way. – }}}

  23. Doug & Edward’s point about excess mortality being crucial for Russia is what I was driving at. It’s also, as I read him, Feshbach’s point with the unacknowledged AIDS crisis, TB and the potential of hepatitis C.

    Then there’s the man-made factors. The last time I looked at this in any detail (five years ago) Russia was the only developed country in which something other than disease was one of the top five causes of death.

    Finally, there’s the undeniable contribution of alcohol to excess mortality. Alcohol is a complicated problem (see Gorbachev’s counterproductive crusade in the mid-1980s), but it’s a huge factor in the difference between male and female life expectancy, which is one of the highest disparities in the world.

    I don’t think there’s any simple link between population and politics, or between population and global affairs. But a Russia with half of its present population is quite different from what most people are probably thinking of and worth understanding how and why it’s headed that way.

  24. One potential flashpoint due to a decreased Russian population would be the Far Eastern provinces where the contrast in population density between China and Russia will only increase. It’s dealt with in this interesting paper (pdf).

  25. Russia might end up with half its population but then again it might not …….. there is always immigration, and it isn’t just Russia that has to work out how to deal with this.

    See – The Spectre of Immigration

  26. Hey, what happened to the trackbacks? Ah well, I’ve just written a quick post about this at

    And, a question, from someone who is quite dumb when it comes to demographics:

    If Russia’s economy maintains a reasonable level of growth (primarily fueled by the energy/resource sector) and at the same time Russia’s population declines in the order of 50% to something around the 70-80 million mark, won’t those remaining be twice as well off as if Russia’s population level had remained steady at 143 million?

  27. Forgot to add the last line of my question:

    Wouldn’t that turn Russia into a country approaching Western European levels of per capita GDP?

  28. Andy, we were getting lots of trackback spam, so we closed it down. Some of the service interruptions you’ve been seeing have been related to fighting off comment spam, too.

    As for per capita GDP, that an interesting way of looking at things. Glass half full anyone?

  29. If Russia’s economy maintains a reasonable level of growth (primarily fueled by the energy/resource sector) and at the same time Russia’s population declines

    Seems doubtful to me.

    How much of Russia’s economy is actually based on resources/oil ? How much do these contribute to growth ? How long will Russian oil last ? How much of that money will Russian people get ?

    If, on the other hand, growth would have to come from industry and services, it will be linked to the size of the Russian working-age population. If that goes down steeply, it will be difficult to maintain total GDP growth, even if GDP per capita increases.

  30. @ Andy

    “If Russia’s economy maintains a reasonable level of growth (primarily fueled by the energy/resource sector) and at the same time Russia’s population declines in the order of 50% to something around the 70-80 million mark, won’t those remaining be twice as well off as if Russia’s population level had remained steady at 143 million?”

    Well, this depends on the value of petroleum, and how it evolves.

    Assuming it stays at the present level in real terms there may be more to share round per capita, sure, but who says the politicians and criminals will be strong on sharing. I just read a paper which does talk about Russia in these terms – as a sort of post modern petro-economy – but look at the problems this produces in the pre-modern variety.

    Also remember the ageing and health-related problems. And if we come off petrol 50 years from now……

    To put things in perspective I just read that if you look at the non oil/raw material parts of the economy, then the Republic of Ireland has something like 4 times the value of exports that Russia has. That I think speaks volumes about the ‘real economy’ there.

    “Wouldn’t that turn Russia into a country approaching Western European levels of per capita GDP?”

    I don’t think so, but then that depends what the EU levels of GDP are by say 2050, since lots of member states have problems which are not *that* far removed from Russia’s. I think the oil money is only really going to be important for the ability it gives some people to play, and probably dangerous games at that.

  31. @khr,

    10% of Estonians were sent to the gulags. Who knows how many other Baltics, Poles, Germans, and Ukranians ended up there. While they definitely were bad for Russians as well, they were also bad for anyone Russia managed to conquer, if even only for a little while.


    Here’s the thing. I don’t agree with your interpretation. It’s clear that mortality rates started to increase in the late 70’s and early 80’s. Mortality decreased with the anti-vodka campaigns of Gorbachev, which shows that a significant number of Russians were essentially drinking themselves to death. With the end of the anti-vodka campaign, this got worse and worse and was exacerbated by the events of 1989-91. So increased mortality can not solely be blamed on the collapse of the Soviet Union, despite what so many people seem to want to believe. I don’t like simplistic explanations either, and I think people want a simplistic explanation for the increased mortality. The fall of the Soviet Union isn’t the whole story.

    As for fertility, it has always been my understanding that fertility rates were declining in the late 70s and early 80s and increased in the late 80s with Gorbachev’s efforts at reform and the anti-vodka campaign and then went back to their earlier trends. Since the article you quote doesn’t actually show the graphs, I need to find them myself. I’ll get back to you on this, but I have to verify this for myself.

  32. @Edward,

    So here is something:

    If you look at Figure 2.6, there is a clear trend toward dropping fertility till about 1980 or so, then an uptick to 1987, then a crash. Since I don’t accept mystical meaning for the value 1.5, it sure seems to be like a decline followed by an uptick, followed by an even steeper decline.

    So matching this with mortality, it’s clear that the real statistical craziness is what was going on in the 80s. That’s got to be the beginnings of perestroika and the anti-vodka campaign.

    So I don’t think you can blame this all on the Soviet collapse. It seems to me that the collapse started under Brezhnev.

  33. @ Hektor

    Well I think we’ve come about as far down the road on this one for the time being as we can. I’m convinced there is a break point at 1.5 and that it’s irresponsible to let fertility drift below that, and you aren’t. So my whole reading of what happened post 1988 is coloured by that. Now we will have to let history be our judge.

    OTOH, I think thanks to you I do have the mortality picture much clearer, as I have the fact that widespread abuse of abortion has lead to higher infertility. It was never my intention to defend Breznev and co.

    On the bigger issue, I am a bit like Luther nailing his manifesto to the wall. I think it is inevitable that all societies drift down below the 2.1 mark, but I think it is possible, via immigration policies and pro family policies to hold a line at around 1.7 – 1.9. I think this is a lesson we have learnt, and we have to campaign now to try and have policies put in place to prevent more third world countries following the other route. I don’t think one should be complacent in the face of this turn in events.

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