Demographic Decline and Policy Changes in Russia
Russia’s overall population declined for the first time since 2008 last year, according to research produced by the Rosstat statistics agency.
The population is determined by three factors: birth rates, death rates, and immigration. Russia’s birth rate has been declining in the last several years after more than a decade of increasing. They have been below the national death rate for even longer; however, this year’s change is significant because it is the first-time migration influxes were too low to make up for low births. In fact, only around 101,800 people immigrated to Russia in 2018 around just over half of what would have been needed to cover the decline of 180,500 people.
The majority of Russian immigrants come from former Soviet Republics, primarily Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Russia is aware of the migrants’ importance to their demography (immigrant labor makes up about 15 percent of Russia’s workforce) and has enacted policies favorable to immigration. For example, a customs union consisting of Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan was established in 2010 and allows immigrants from those countries to work without a permit.
Raising the birth rate has also been an important part of Russian policy. The Maternity Capital Program was created in 2008 — the last time Russia’s population declined. It entitles families earning less than 150 percent of the minimum subsistence level to receive 10-11 thousand rubles (175-190USD) per month until their first child turns eighteen months old. The project was slated to run for ten years but was extended until 2021. Additional funds become available for education and daycare when the child turns three. Another policy introduced in 2018 entitles families who have a second or third child (between 2018 and 2022) to preferential mortgage rates. Nevertheless, other policies may be hampering efforts to grow Russian families. Reports suggest that reductions in the number of hospitals and sanctions on imported medicines, among other measures, make reproducing in Russia challenging.
A reduced population has obvious economic consequences, as shrinking labor forces drastically reduce production capacities. The combination of Russia’s increasing elderly population and the lack of younger workers to pay into welfare structures has led to pension decreases and increases to retirement ages, which in turn have sparked protests.
Demographic changes have implications for interethnic relations as well. The decline in birthrates is mostly attributable to ethnic Russian women; Russian Muslims give birth at higher rates. Regional-level demographics reflect this pattern: In Murmansk Oblast, the population has fallen by 34 percent, Sakhalin by 31 percent, and Arkhangelsk by 26 percent. Amur, Kirov, Ivanovo, Tver, and Kostroma Oblasts have all seen their populations decline by more than 25 percent, while Vladimir, Ryazan, and Oryol Oblasts have experienced of at least 15 percent. In contrast, regions in the North Caucasus with a higher Muslim population have been experiencing population growth. One consequence of this difference is that the North Caucasians do not receive payments under the Maternity Capital Program, something the Russian government has blamed on budget shortages.
The band-aid covering Russia’s declining population – immigration – is also becoming more complicated. Anti-immigrant rhetoric is less prominent in Russia than in Europe, but opposition parties are beginning to make such issues part of their platform. Today, polling indicates that around 66 percent of Russians favor tighter immigration restrictions.
All of these patterns indicate bad news on Russia’s horizon. Unless the policies the government is implementing today prove effective, the country faces a population decline that will push forward policy changes that are unpopular amongst elderly citizens and ethnic minorities. Even if these policies are effective, demographic change takes time. Russia may need to prepare itself for a challenging 2019.
|Year||Birth Rate (per 1,00 people)||Death Rate (per 1,000 people)||Immigration Inflow|