Running Out of Russians

by Steve Ertelt
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Recently, the government in Moscow reported a startling discovery: Russia is running out of Russians.

In April, the Russian State Statistics Committee issued its monthly report, noting that the country's death rate is twice as high as its birth rate. Each day, the country's population literally shrinks by 2,500 people.

As a result, over time, Russias economic and security problems will worsen. An increasingly older population will have fewer young, productive workers. And the government will find it hard to control its territory -- the largest on earth -- with fewer people.

If birth and death rates stabilize at current levels, the country in 2050 will have just 116 million people -- compared to the 147 million living in Russia today.

But even that is probably an overly optimistic picture. Dr. Murray Feshback of Georgetown University, co-author of the Environmental and Health Atlas of Russia, has predicted that the population will actually plummet to between 80 million and 100 million people by the middle of the century.

Several factors suggest that Feshbacks estimate is closer to the truth. Immigration has slackened, falling 27 percent in 1999. Emigration out of Russia steadily drains the population by about 200,000 people each year.

Russia's birth rate has been in a historic decline in this century. But now, Russian families are having a harder time even forming. Between January 1999 and January 2000 alone, the number of marriages fell 5 percent, while divorces rose 23 percent.

About 70 percent of all pregnancies since 1994 ended in abortion. Partly because of the lasting health effects an abortion can have on a woman's body, one in five Russian couples is infertile.

The decimation of the population is not merely bad luck. It can also be seen as a direct result of the Russian situation today. A crumbling economy and the demise of the government health care system have left Russians too poor to care for themselves, let alone offspring.

Meanwhile, the Russian government appears to be in denial. The Kremlin's demographic adviser, Vladimir Mukomel, recently disputed these downbeat projections, saying, "No expert worth his salt could advance such predictions."

But he has not cited any facts to disprove the evidence.

Regardless of Mukomel's scoffing, an ever-shrinking population will pose serious problems. Russia will have great difficulty exerting influence over its huge landmass and surrounding area. Historically, Russia has sent its young, technocratic elite to the hinterlands to run industry, lead educational institutions and administer governments.

In coming years, these people will be in short supply.

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Posted 10 Sep 2000.

Copyright 2000 by Steve Ertelt
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