Russia’s Fertility Future

The excellent demographic journal Demoscope has an extensive discussion of fertility trends in Russia. Some of it backs my own views in Demography I – The Russian Cross Reversed? and consequently, the assumptions behind the future demographic projections in Demography III – Faces of the Future.

The issue starts off with 2007: Fertility Year, which notes that from 1999 to 2007 the crude number of births increased by 33% from 1,214,700 to 1,610,100. Furthermore, only 37% of the increase above was due to an increase in the size of the childbearing age segment of the population (the ‘echo’ of the 1980’s baby boom) – the other 63% is due to the rise in the total fertility rate (TFR), which is independent of the population’s age structure by definition. In 2007, these two figures widened to 10% and 90%, respectively. So the common Russophobe argument that recent increases in the birth rate are only due to the current youth bulge is at best only a third valid.

Total fertility rates 1925-2006. From top to bottom - Russia; Spain; Italy; USA; Finland; France; Sweden; Japan.

Total fertility rates 1925-2006. From top to bottom – Russia; Spain; Italy; USA; Finland; France; Sweden; Japan.

After that they give us a standard discussion of comparative Russian fertility history. Although Russia was at the forefront of the demographic transition in the 1950’s and 1960’s, unlike most Western European countries its TFR remained stable and edged upwards in the wake of the new maternal benefits and social guarantees of the 1980’s, peaking at 2.23 in 1987. It collapsed in the face of the socio-economic tsunamis of the 1990’s, reaching a nadir of 1.17 in 1999, albeit there has been an incipient recovery since the new millennium. It has accelerated very recently, reaching 1.41 in 2007. (According to preliminary data, the crude birth rate increased by a further 8.1% in the first nine months of this year, so the TFR for 2008 should be at around 1.5 – far from the replacement level of 2.1, but already in the top half of the industrialized nations).

(Off-topic. It is fascinating seeing how TFR’s correlate to historical eras. Note how Soviet TFR cliff dived during World War Two and the big US fall during the Great Depression and oil shocks, as well as its great recovery during the years of the miracle economy and the Great Moderation. Are we going to see a 1990’s-Russia-style collapse in US fertility in the next decade as the chickens of its debt-fueled hedonism come home to roost?).

(Off-topic 2. Return to Rosstat results for January-September 2008, copied above. Left = 2007, Right = 2008. January, February…September at bottom. Top half are births, bottom half are deaths. Note how whenever the birth rate goes up in the particular month relative to the same month of the previous year, so does the death rate (albeit not by as much) – that is a remarkable and puzzling correlation. Can anyone suggest ideas for why that is the case? NB: This would be understandable if Russia were a Third World country with high infant and maternal mortality, but it isn’t, so I’m at a loss explaining this.)

However, one problem even with total fertility rates is that they overestimate the effects of timing of births. An even more accurate measure of long-term fertility is the average birth sequence (средняя очередность рождения, henceforth ABS), which gives for any one year the mean order of all newborn children (for instance, if women in a previously entirely childless country all decided to give birth in a given year for some reason, the TFR would leap up to a very high level but the ABS would equal exactly one). Looking at these different fertility patterns, it emerges that in the 1980’s, Soviet fertility was not as high as implied by the TFR – not was the 1990’s collapse as apocalyptic as some would have it. Or in other words, many gave birth in the 1980’s because of the social benefits of perestroika and many postponed it in the 1990’s because of the economic crises. The effect on deeper generational fertility patterns was much more modest – a drop of just 0.2 children.

ABS in columns, TFR on the line. The graph shows that Soviet collapse influenced the timing of future births much more than their absolute expected value.

ABS in columns, TFR on the line. The graph shows that Soviet collapse influenced the timing of future births much more than their absolute expected value.

From above we can also see that 2007 was a seminal year not only for its respectable rise in the TFR, but for the fact that for the first time since the post-Soviet stagnation the ABS has begun to rise, increasing from 1.59 in 2006 to 1.66 in 2007. This was due to the increase in second-, third- and higher order births – firstborns as a percentage of all new children declined from 60% (where they had been since 1993), to 55%.

A consequence and cause of the above is that the age of new mothers is increasing since 1993, as couples begin marrying later and postponing children. (Nonetheless, the average age of Russian women at birth is still significantly younger than in Western Europe).

Average age of mother for all births. From top to bottom - Hungary; Germany; Greece; Spain; Italy; Latvia; Netherlands; Poland; Russia (bright red); USA; France; Sweden.

Average age of mother for all births. From top to bottom – Hungary; Germany; Greece; Spain; Italy; Latvia; Netherlands; Poland; Russia (bright red); USA; France; Sweden.

In the 1960’s, when people expected to have many children, the average birth age was around 27-28; but as fertility fell and a bigger percentage of births became firstborns, this figure declined. It rose slightly in the 1980’s (mini baby-boom) and collapsed until 1993, when it began rising again. From 2000, fertility growth has been concentrated amongst women over 30, while it has fallen amongst those under 25. The share of newborns accruing to women younger than 25 years fell from 61% in 1993 to 41% in 2007, while the structure of age-specific fertility coefficients changed in a cardinal way.

Age-specific birth coefficients / 1000 women in Russia.

Age-specific birth coefficients / 1000 women in Russia.

All the above indicate the TFR in Russia will rise substantially in the years ahead as the 1980’s generation have more children in their 30’s than any previous post-Stalin cohort. One can only marvel at the innate prescience of the Middle Scenario in my Faces of the Future projections (“Fertility. 2006: 1.4, 2015: 2.0, 2025: 2.0, 2050: 1.7; age-specific fertility convergence with the Netherlands by 2030”).

After that comes a discussion of Russia’s net female reproduction coefficient (NFRC). It takes into account two things that the TFR doesn’t, at least not explicitly – a) the male-female ratio and b) the female death, pre- and during childbearing age. Although for generation reproduction the TFR is usually quoted as being 2.1, in practice it varies – although that is indeed the case in most modern industrial countries, in underdeveloped and/or traditional societies with high female mortality rates in early years and/or high male to female ratios, the TFR needs to be as high as 2.5, 3.0 or more. This is because a lot of females die before they can procreate more females. The net female reproduction coefficient explicitly takes the two factors above into account – any value greater than 1 ensures long-term population growth, while a value of less than 1 implies impending decline. In the graph below you can see a graph of Russia’s NFRC from 1960 to 2005.

Net female reproduction coefficient 1960-2005. From top to bottom, then right - France; Italy; Great Britain; Russia (bright red); Germany; Spain, USA (white race).

Net female reproduction coefficient 1960-2005. From top to bottom, then right – France; Italy; Great Britain; Russia (bright red); Germany; Spain, USA (white race).

Today all the world’s major industrial nations are not producing enough girls to maintain their current population levels in the long-term. The US as a whole just about makes an exception, although only thanks to the help of high-fertility Hispanics. In Russia, the NFRC has increased since 2005 to 0.67, which puts it above most east-central European countries but significantly below France, Scandinavia and the Anglosphere (albeit in the latter cases their numbers are inflated by the fecundity of first-generation immigrants).

One more thing can be gleaned from the graph above. Russia’s combination of high middle-age mortality rates, one of the earliest demographic transitions and post-Soviet fertility postponement meant that absolute demographic decline set in as early as the 1990’s, whereas the likes of Germany and Japan have only began sliding into them fairly recently. In Germany’s case, since the country has been in a deep sub-replacement rut since 1970 (i.e. for more than a generation), this is an intractable problem, whereas large Russian population decline can still theoretically be avoided. As it stands, however, the natural rate of population decline for Russia’s population, with a NFRC of 0.67, is 1.5% when it reaches equilibrium. Any increases must come from increasing the TFR, as its infant mortality rate of 8.9/1000 in 2007 is already statistically negligible and changing the sex ratio in favor of more girls is unrealistic.

Finally, one more thing I’ve been arguing and that the article confirms – in the long-term, the effect of Russia’s high adult mortality is negligible. Firstly, the main burden of hypermortality falls amongst men, who as a rule don’t reproduce except in very rare circumstances. Secondly, although even death rates amongst women under the age of 40 are unacceptably high in Russia by Western standards, they are nonetheless demographically insignificant. The final nail in the coffin of this theory that hypermortality is Russia’s bane (propagated by Eberstadt, who I’ve criticized here and elsewhere, and not only about this but about his unrealistically high AIDS projections for Russia) is that the improvement in Russia’s infant mortality rates in the 1990’s actually contributed more to the NFRC than climbing female mortality rates (albeit the absolute value in both cases is very small).

An effective method of increasing the TFR is by importing poorer migrants, which tend to have a higher TFR than the host population. During the 1990’s, the indigenous French had a TFR of 1.70, while migrants were much more prolific breeders at 2.16. In Great Britain migrants accounted for twice as many births as their share of the population in 2004. Remember what I said about how the TFR in France, Scandinavia and the Anglosphere is generally a step higher than amongst Russians, Japanese, Germans or other east-central Europeans? Migrants are the answer.

(As I said in previous demographics posts, I am not a big fan of a wide open doors policy and would prefer to sieve migrants through qualifications requirements and/or IQ and cultural compatibility tests. Besides, as the article points out migration does not permanently resolve the problem of declining fertility rates – the second generation typically adjusts its reproduction patterns to that of the host population anyway).

The conclusion cautions against overestimating the success of 2007. Granted, this year saw a cardinal shift in fertility patterns, with the number of every order of births increasing apart from firstborns, which remained constant. On the other hand, the country is still very far from generational replacement levels and carries the risk of simply bringing forward in time births that would have occurred anyway. This is a particularly valid point since the new pro-natal measured introduced in 2007 only affect those who have more than one child, although one would have to put against this the fact that TFR increase amongst older women has already been the pattern since 1993 in any case.

According to a 2007 family policy survey, the government’s increased allocations of ‘maternal capital’ enjoy widespread popular support. However, only 1% of those questioned said they’d certainly have more children than otherwise as a result of those measures, while 8% would consider doing so and 9% plan to do it earlier. A full 81% say that the pro-natal policies would have no effect on their planned number or timing of children. In another poll, the percentage of people saying they plan to have a child in the next three years changed very little between 2004 and 2007. The authors conclude that although a sustained pro-family state policy might raise popular expectation, as things currently stand they see little evidence for a significant demographic effect from these measures.

I for one am of a more optimistic mind. For a start, the first poll is very much flawed – are you really going to say that $10,000 will entice you to have another child, even in an anonymous poll? I don’t think so. People are proud and will answer “no” to this question. They also run counter to a Rosstat study showing that Russia’s planned TFR is at around 1.8-2.0, which would return it to the Soviet-era norm. However, it is possible to agree with them on two things – a) contrary to Russophobe assertions and assorted doomsayers, Russian demography is not apocalyptic – it is in fact currently better than in many east-central European countries (and even comparable to some Anglo-Saxon countries, if you discount their immigrants), according to most measures of longterm demographic viability; and b) one or two years of even seminal improvements are not sufficient to make judgements about the demographic destiny of a country. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.


  1. As 1717500 children were born in 2008 in Russia, the TFR preliminary calculated by myself was approx. 1.5035 that year which is the highest value after 1992. However, 2008 was the last economically stable year, and surely the fertility will drop, especially for the 2HY’09. I expect TFR from 1.43 to 1.47 this year and from 1.34 to 1.42 in 2010. Fertility growth could resume after 2010. Life expectancy was approx. 67.7 years in 2008, 0.2 year higher than in 2007 and 2.4 year higher than in 2005. I expect drop in LE this year to 67.1-67.5 and next year to 66.5-67.2. Migration balance which reached 250k will sharlpy drop probably to 100-180k this year. So, depopulation will grow again, from -121k in 2008 to 300-350k this year and 400-450k in 2010. Current stats fixed 141.89m on 01.01.2009, will probalby have 141.55 at the end of 2009 and 141.12 at the end of 2010. So 2010 Census should count approx. 141.2m on mid-october. Which gives us prognosis for 135-137 million in 2025. But I personally think this census will count 1-3 milion more, due to illegal immigration, upto 142-144 million, and then 2025 figure could be revised to 139-145 million and 2050 to 133-150 million. I think the overall population will not change significantly by 2050 mostly due to immigration, but sparsely populated territories will depopulate more, and most populated regions will gain population, absorb it.

  2. I agree with your general idea that fertility is probably going to fall in the next two years and that immigration is certainly going to fall, although I am not so certain on life expectancy (there are two conflicting trends here, one is the tendency for hard drinking to up during economic downturns, the other is the accelerating improvement in Russian healthcare).

    Out of curiosity, how did you come up with all these detailed figures – did you use a model, or are they educated guesses?

  3. I use my own calculations of CBR/TFR ratio, which in general reflects the share of women in childbearing age, weighted by fertility in each age group. The fertility already has fallen by 3.8% in Jan., though the crisis hit in October, so, I probably underestimated the falling. TFR could dip even below 1.4 this year amd below 1.35in 2010. Which means we could see less than 141m by the 2010 Census. But fortunately, deaths have fallen by 15% in Jan. which probably means that crisis may not affect mortality, as all previous crisises did not affect mortality in western countries. Russia probably can have LE higher than 68 years in a whole in 2009. I just guess, but I used several models before. Almost everything depends on immigration.

  4. Let’s see what crisis will do with fertility in Latvia, Estonia, Japan…

  5. Ricky, the monthly fluctuations are pretty big so I think we need to wait at least a few more months before making proper conjectures. But it’s good you’re keeping watch.

  6. South Korea alreadt have dropped it’s TFR from 1.25 to 1.19 for Y2008. I expect huge drop further this year – probably to 1.05-1.10.
    Moreover, the overall fertility rise in europe and East Asia in recent years could have halted rather sharply. It means that the lowest low point in fertility which was acieved in mid-90’s, still here…

  7. Quanbao Jiang says:

    Dear colleague,
    Could you send me the data in these figures?
    I need them badly
    Best wishes
    Quanbao Jiang
    Institute for Population and Development Studies, Xi’an Jiaotong University, Xi’an China