Monday, April 27, 2009

Poor Old Russia

It's losing the one thing it always had in quantity - people.

Some people worry about authoritarian Russia, but others (Mark Steyn comes to mind) think it's only a matter of time before the empty Far East returns to its previous owners, who have people to spare. China lost it to Russia in the Treaty of Aigun 150 years ago.

Their demography makes the UKs look good - although the country is emptying rather than being kept topped up by mass immigration.

A spectre is haunting Russia today. It is not the spectre of Communism—that ghost has been chained in the attic of the past—but rather of depopulation—a relentless, unremitting, and perhaps unstoppable depopulation. The mass deaths associated with the Communist era may be history, but another sort of mass death may have only just begun, as Russians practice what amounts to an ethnic self-cleansing.

Since 1992, Russia’s human numbers have been progressively dwindling. This slow motion process now taking place in the country carries with it grim and potentially disastrous implications that threaten to recast the contours of life and society in Russia, to diminish the prospects for Russian economic development, and to affect Russia’s potential influence on the world stage in the years ahead.

The current Russian depopulation—which began in 1992 and shows no signs of abating—was, like the previous episodes, also precipitated by events of momentous political significance: the final dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of Communist Party rule. But it differs in three important respects. First, it is by far the longest period of population decline in modern Russian history, having persisted for over twice as long as the decline that followed the Bolshevik Revolution, and well over three times as long as the terrifying depopulation Russia experienced during and immediately after World War II.

Second, unlike all the previous depopulations in Russia, this one has been taking place under what are, within the Russian context, basically orderly social and political circumstances. 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.
It's a post-Soviet thing. Lots of abortions, which was characteristic of the old SU, but now lots of cohabitation and lower fertility.

In 1990, the end of the Gorbachev era, marriage was still the norm, and while divorce was very common, a distinct majority of Russian Federation women (60 percent) could expect to have entered into a first marriage and still remain in that marriage by age 50. A few years later, in 1996, the picture was already radically different: barely a third of Russia’s women (34 percent) were getting married and staying in that same marriage until age 50.

Since the end of the Soviet era, young women in Russia are opting for cohabitation before and, to a striking extent, instead of marriage. In the early 1980s, about 15 percent of women had been in consensual unions by age 25; twenty years later, the proportion was 45 percent. Many fewer of those once-cohabiting young women, moreover, seem to be moving into marital unions nowadays. Whereas roughly a generation earlier, fully half of cohabiters were married within a year, today less than a third are.

Is Russia’s post-Communist plunge in births the consequence of a “demographic shock,” or the result of what some Russian experts call a “quiet revolution” in patterns of family formation? At the moment, it is possible to see elements of both in the Russian Federation’s unfolding fertility trends. Demographic shocks tend by nature to be transient; demographic transitions or “revolutions,” considerably less so. But this much is clear: to date, no European society that has embarked upon the same demographic transition as Russia’s—declining marriage rates with rising divorce; the spread of cohabitation as alternative to marriage; delayed age at marriage and sub-replacement fertility regimens—has reverted to more “traditional” family patterns and higher levels of completed family size. There is no reason to think that in Russia it will be any different.

Don't even get him started on Russia's public health disasters.

By 2005, male life expectancy at birth was fully fifteen years lower in the Russian Federation than in Western Europe. It was also five years below the global average for male life expectancy, and three years below the average for the less developed regions (whose levels it had exceeded, in the early 1950s, by fully two decades).

And the people who ARE having the babies tend not to be "the indigenous ethnic groups of the country". That at least is familiar.

First, along with the overall decline, differences in birthrates and survival rates among the indigenous ethnic groups of the country and among immigrant populations mean that depopulation will be accompanied by “a change in the nationality composition of Russia,” with the titular nationality forming an ever smaller share.

Second, depopulation will threaten the foundations of the preservation of the titular nationality's “self-consciousness” and entail “the loss of national traditions,” especially if, as seems likely, the majority nationality by the middle of this century will be a nation other than the Russians.

Third, she writes, depopulation will threaten the ability of the country to maintain its territorial integrity and the well-being of the population. Russia is already one of the least densely populated countries on earth, and it will soon lack the numbers of people needed to hold its current borders if they are challenged within or without.

Fourth, the country will face an increasing shortage of workers, a trend that will make it ever more difficult for the population to maintain its standard of living and force the government to withdraw support from the kinds of projects that could reverse this and other dangerous demographic developments.

Don't get her started on the other six !


Ivan said...

...empty Far East returns to its previous owners .... China lost it to Russia in the Treaty of Aigun 150 years ago.I think you make too much of the treaty. It basically reversed the Treaty of Nerchinsk (16xx) and (in my recollection) shifted the border comparatively little. That is compared to Russia and China - compared to say the UK, the territory is vast. The area was populated with either Chinese or Mongols and the Russians didn't expel them. The earlier treaty concluded a long series of territorial disputes.

Given the phrase "empty Far East", I think most people would suppose you speak of Siberia rather the border regions under question. I don't think that's ever been Chinese. It was once unclaimed because nobody wanted it.

Ivan said...

This map illustrates my point. It shows the Argu river which became the frontier after the Treaty of Nerchinsk - ie the max Chinese territorial extent.

Anonymous said...

I knew a Russian work colleague and she told me she wouldn't dream of marrying a Russian guy because they come homew drunk every Thursday, Friday and Satruday night and beat the living daylights out of their wife and kids. Certainly she practised what she preached by getting herself up the duff and living on her own with the baby. Naturally, this level of alcohol intake is likely to take years of a man's life too. So the conclusion I have come to is that Vodka is the root cause of all Russia's problems.

dearieme said...

Vodka as a "root cause": potatoes. Brilliant.

Anonymous said...

And yet - according to the National Geographic at least - Christianity is in resurgence in the former SU. Seminaries have gone from 2 to 25, similar story with monasteries.

So, glimmer of hope here. Let's keep Russia in our prayers.

Yaffle said...

Really? Looks to me like a certain other religion is filling the demographic and spiritual gap

Anonymous said...

I'm wondering in a half-baked sort of way if this is related to urbanisation.

After the black death Europe was depopulated, the peasants saw a rise in real earnings and Im guessing the classes of landowning farmers expanded at the expense of landowning aristos.

We could see something like that in Russia but we dont because much of the Russian population is concentrated in cities. Falling population might make it easier to get housing but doesnt improve the position of the productive classes the way it might in agriculture.

Wolfie said...

This process should be a worry to all of Europe, Russia is an important security stop in the East. The Russian government would do well to use its petro-rubles to invest in family life, sponsor expatriates to return and open the doors to Western European immigration (rather than expel them as it has done in the past).