The average Russian’s life expectancy is below that of Bolivia, Iraq and India, reports Joseph Poprzeczny.
Russia is in the midst of its fourth but most threatening demographic slump in less than a century, according to Washington-based American Enterprise Institute demographer and economist Professor Nicholas Eberstadt.
The size and duration of her latest population decline, which began in 1992, means Russians are approaching the point where population decline may be unstoppable.
Eberstadt says that the present decline carries grim and potentially disastrous implications that threaten to drastically diminish the country’s economic prospects and influence on the world stage.
Russia’s first de-population bout came during 1917-23 as a direct result of the bloody upheavals associated with the imposition of Communism by Lenin’s Bolsheviks.
Says Eberstadt: “The next drop took place between 1933 and 1934, when the country’s population fell by nearly 2 million – or almost two per cent – as a result of Stalin’s war against the ‘kulaks’ in his forced collectivisation of Soviet agriculture.
“And then, between 1941 and 1946, Russia’s population plummeted by more than 13 million through the cataclysms and catastrophes of World War II.”
Each of these phases was consequently intricately associated with a totalitarian leader – Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler, respectively.
However, the present slump is different, not only because it is the longest lasting one, but because it shows no signs of abating.
Eberstadt says the current 16-year-long slump has so far seen a 40 per cent drop in births compared to 1976-1991, the last 16 years of Soviet rule. Total births registered during 1992-2007 were 22.3 million compared to 36 million over those last 16 Communist years.
“On the other side of the life cycle, a total of 24.6 million deaths were recorded between 1976 and 1991, while in the first 16 years of the post-Communist period the Russian Federation tallied 34.7 million deaths, a rise of just over 40 per cent,” Eberstadt says.
“The symmetry is striking: in the last 16 years of the Communist era, births exceeded deaths in Russia by 11.4 million; in the first 16 years of the post-Soviet era deaths exceeded births by 12.4 million.”
He says that Russia had been able to bounce back from the harsh but relatively brief Leninist, Stalinist and Hitler cataclysms to resume population growth, whereas the current demographic slump coming during a time of peace seems unable to be reversed.
This means its fundamental uniqueness is stark and, paradoxically, more threatening.
First, its duration is already more than twice as long as the 1917-23 Lenin era decline and over three times the duration of the declines under Stalin’s Great Terror and Hitler’s war.
Second, it is a peacetime phenomenon.
Eberstadt observes: “Terror and war are not the engines for the depopulation Russia is experiencing today, as they have been in the past.
“And finally, whereas Russia’s previous depopulations resulted from wild and terrible social paroxysms, they were also clearly temporary in nature.
“The current crisis, on the other hand, is proceeding gradually and routinely, and thus it is impossible to predict when, or whether, it will finally come to an end.”
Two major demographic research institutions – the United Nations Population Division (UNPD) and the US Bureau of the Census – have undertaken projection studies in an attempt to answer what the outcome of Russia’s population trends are likely to be.
Eberstadt says: “As of mid-year 2005, Russia’s estimated population was around 143 million.
“UNPD projections for the year 2025 range from a high of about 136 million to a low of about 121 million; for the year 2030, they range from 133 million to 115 million.
“The Census Bureau’s projections for the Russian Federation’s population in 2025 and 2030 are 128 million and 124 million respectively.”
If these projections prove to be accurate, the Russian Federation will have experienced some 35 years of demographic decline by 2025.
“Russia’s population would then have dropped by about 20 million between 1990 and 2025, and Russia would have fallen from the world’s sixth to the twelfth most populous country,” writes Eberstadt.
“In relative terms, that would amount to almost as dramatic a demographic drop as the one Russia suffered during World War II. In absolute terms, it would actually be somewhat greater in magnitude.”
The US Census Bureau International Data Base for 2007 ranked Russia’s population 164 out of 226 globally in terms of overall life expectancy.
Russia is now below Bolivia, South America’s poorest (and least healthy) country, and lower than Iraq and India.
For females, the Russian Federation life expectancy is not as high as Nicaragua, Morocco or Egypt.
For males, it is the same as that of Cambodia, Ghana and Eritrea.
– Joseph Poprzeczny is a Perth-based historian and freelance journalist.