Saturday, April 18, 2009

Russia looks at its declining population

Russia has a major problem with population loss. Today’s Moscow Times reports on a study (Babel fish translation here) which addresses the causes, consequences and potential cures for its declining population. At present, even with immigration, the population of the Russian Federation is declining by almost a million people a year, she writes, and consequently it is time to pay close attention not just to the overall figure but to the specific consequences of the depopulation of the country. The population of the Soviet Union, when it was disbanded in 1991, was 293 million. The population of the new Russian Federation has since declined from 148 million to 141 million, and is projected to be 111 million by 2050. A low birth rate, a high death rate, high abortion rate and lack of immigration are the prime causes. Alcoholism is the major reason for the short life expectancy among Russian men (59 years) compared to 72 for women. The Times goes on to outline some of the major concerns of depopulation including a “demographic shift in national composition and national traditions,” the threat to maintaining its territorial integrity, the dilution of young productive members of society by older social dependants and tensions between young and old over who supports whom. The study postulates a number of solutions, some of which are lost in translation: And tenth, she concludes, the depopulation of Russia is likely to produce a variety of demands, not now in evidence, to engage in such “fantastic” population-boosting measures as state-supported “incubator” children, “hybridization of embryo” (artificial insemination??), cloning and greater efforts to extend life spans and working lives. Not mentioned in the article or the study is the “brain drain” of the more intelligent and productive members of Russian society to Western Europe. When a society feels there are diminished opportunities where they live, they stop having children or they vote with their feet. Both are now happening in Russia.

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