Russia’s Demographic Resilience II

As little as a few months ago, alarmist commentators were forecasting Russia’s demographic doom. They predicted a wave of abortions that would strip down its post-2006 fertility gains, and a prolonged period of fertility postponement that would have longterm effects deep into its dark Putinist future. Meanwhile, there would be a renewed pandemic of vodka binge drinking that would further exacerbate Russia’s already lamentable mortality rates. My April prediction that “the probability that the crisis will have a significant longterm effect on Russian fertility is extremely low” and my May prediction of a “a birth rate of 11.5 / 1000 and a death rate of 14.5 / 1000 this year, changed from 12.1 / 1000 and 14.8 / 1000 in 2008” were dismissed and ridiculed by some (not by everyone though!).

To put it bluntly, they were wrong. In the first half of 2009 (H1), birth rates increased by 4.2% and death rates decreased by 4.0%, which gives a birth rate of 12.6 / 1000 and 14.0 / 1000 for the rest of the year if linearly extrapolated – better even than the “optimistic” variants of my estimates, which are themselves regarded as optimistic by the general commentariat! That is almost certainly not going to happen, because there would have been some fertility postponement during the peak of the crisis (October 2008-March 2009), which means that Q4 is going to be perhaps 5-10% lower than last year. Overall, though, it is reasonably to assume that total births in 2009 will be the same as in 2008, whereas mortality rates are going to continue on their secular decline (in particular, it is telling that deaths from alcohol poisoning fell by 17% in H2 2009 relative to the previous year!, in stark contrast to predictions of mass drunkenness by the new unemployed).

I am reproducing here a very informative essay and data compilation by Sergei Slobodyan of the Untimely Thoughts discussion group – Latest Population Trends – Jan to July, who brings us the latest on this issue.

Latest Population Trends – Jan to July

Sergey Slobodyan

The data I’m using comes from Goscomstat’s advance estimates on fertility and mortality, reported every year cumulatively, which I turn into monthly data. There is a more precise estimate of total deaths and births for annual numbers, but there’s no obvious way of getting this precise estimate at monthly frequencies. In the last couple of years, the difference between the two estimates is very small for deaths but births could be underestimated in advance statistics by up to 8 thousand per year.

I then pass the monthly series since 2002 (the year the data starts being available electronically) expressed in terms of births and deaths per day through seasonal adjustment software, namely DEMETRA using Tramo-seats method. Attached table shows my raw data, and a graph with the original and estimated trend components. There are also forecasts for the next 24 months.

[Click image for larger version].

The 2009 data from January to July tells two stories. First, both fertility and mortality continue almost exactly along their 2008 trends: mortality restarted decline in 2008 after a virtual stop in 2007, and fertility started to grow at a rate that’s somewhat lower than that observed in 2007. Seven months of 2009 is not long enough to speak about presence or absence of trend breaks, but a large change would have been visible. As it is, trend mortality drops at about 3.5%/year rate, and fertility grows at a 4 to 4.5%/year rate.

Second, usual seasonal patterns continue showing up: summer births spree started early this year (in June, instead of July-August), but even the July numbers are essentially the same as in July 2008. Mortality exhibits a usual summer drop; the minimum is usually observed in July to September, it looks like this year the minimum is yet to come.

Do we observe any evidence of the “abortion epidemics” that scared everyone in March of this year (see JRL #173, 1)? Hardly. In almost every month of 2009, number of births was either higher than in 2008 or essentially the same (it was lower in January). There is no discernible change in this pattern for May, June, or July, even though children born in these months could have been legally aborted after onset of the crisis was widely announced (“term”, or 38-week early July births could have been aborted until about New Year, for example. Late July or premature births could have been terminated in January or even later). Thus, either the “abortion epidemics” as reported did not happen, or before it we were poised for an even stronger than usual summer birth season that was prevented by the crisis. In the latter case, most of these births would surely show up in 2010.  August data point would allow answering the question even more precisely.

What can we expect for the 2009 total numbers? I would be extremely surprised if some forecasts of significant birth losses come true in the year 2009: for example, to have 1600 thousand births for the whole of 2009 (110,000 or so less than in 2008), monthly fertility for the remainder of 2009 would need to drop from about 145,000 currently to 120,000, a number which was last observed in early 2006.  The year 2010 is still uncertain, and delayed fertility, rather than abortions, is likely to play a large role in fertility numbers there. But, unless the feared “second wave” of crisis materializes, we are hardly likely to see a number noticeably different from that of 2008.

Finally, what can my technical analysis say about the month when fertility is going to beat mortality? In July 2009, natural population growth in Novosibirsk region was positive – for the first time in 18 years. When can we expect this to happen for the whole of Russia? With current trends, expect this to happen at some point next summer. Trend mortality is projected to get below trend fertility in the summer of 2011. If the natural population growth behaves this way and if current migration patterns hold, positive population growth in summer months of 2010 for the Russia as whole is possible if not probable.


  1. As always,SO,very informative and very encouraging. I can see that in the months ahead I will have a very enjoyable time rubbing the noses of Phoby, SWP, and Robert Amsterdam in these developments, and with much less enjoyment contrasting Russia with the Baltics and Ukraine, where demographic collapse continues unabated.

    One hopes that the people of these Western-oriented governments come quickly to the understanding that this orientation is harmful, deadly even, to their interests, and force a change.

    • Thanks, rkka.

      To be fair Ukraine has also seen significant improvements in both fertility (5%) and mortality (-6%) in H2 2009 – though it remains worse than in Russia and its continuation is more open to question because its socio-economic crisis is much deeper. That said, it’s nice to see their peoples struggling for self-preservation despite their occupation regimes.

  2. Update from Sergey:

    I’m happy to report that I was wrong on one count and right on another.

    Tatyana Golikova, Russian health minister, just sounded off the
    figures for August
    : there were 151.7 thousand births (3.4 thousand
    more than in Aug 2008 according to the preliminary data) and 150.7
    deaths (almost 8 thousand less than in Aug 2008):

    в России впервые за последние 15 лет зафиксирован естественный прирост населения, составивший в августе 2009 года 1 000 человек. За прошлый месяц, по данным ведомства, родились 151,7 тысячи детей, умерли 150,7 тысячи человек.

    This means that a) “abortion epidemics” is still nowhere to be seen, and b) natural increase has happened in Aug 2009 instead of somewhere in summer 2010 as I predicted. Of course, the data would be corrected later, but I’m working on uncorrected data anyway.

    It’s good to be wrong, sometimes!

    • Golikova is not in a position to report vital statistics, thus the positive balance of births and deaths might have place and might not have place

      • Sergey Slobodyan says:

        You are probably not the only one to say that; to counter speculations, Goskomstat just made an EXTREMELY unusual step of publishing a detailed vital statistics for August 2009 and Jan – Aug 2009 on its web site,

        You can get a lot of info, more detailed than in the usual GKS monthly release, and most of it split by federation subjects.

        Monthly numbers for births and deaths are the same as in Golikova report. I would be MUCH surprised to see the health minister without access to vital statistics as soon as they are ready. I hope Goskomstat would now switch to publishing the demo stats with data release on 12-14th day of the month (as it used to a while ago) instead of on 22-24th as is currently the case, given that we know how early the data is actually available.

        Finally, it might happen that eventually the number for Aug 2009 natural growth would turn from 0+ to 0- as the data gets cleaned up and updated, but all the tendencies I report are based on the original data, as I mentioned. The deaths tendency was nothing short of astonishing.

  3. I’m surprised but not at the same time. On one hand, the continued improving trends don’t surprise me, and I never bought into the whole “the crisis is going to reverse everything” theory. It just didn’t make any sense logically, taking into account the moderate and subdued ways the economic crisis is effecting the average Russian compared to past economic troubles, and considering how shaky the theories on how and why economic troubles negatively effect demographics are in the first place. But even then, one of the most obvious signs that things wouldn’t be so bad was the fact that it was the same people propagating those predictions who never acknowledged an existing improvement in the first place, or if they did, they shrugged it off as a mere baby boom that would end in a year or two, seeing the population decline resume at full force in no time. Most of these people are fundamentally against the idea of a demographic recovery, and have made that clear by their denial, and their amazing ability to flat out ignore the recent improving trends in mortality rates and the TFR. How can I possibly conclude anything else when as recently as a few months ago, mainstream media was still reporting on the “unstoppable” crisis (and mainstream are the moderates). It’s ideology, not logic. Ideologically, they want a “dying” Russia (I think Biden made that clear earlier this summer with one of his infamous slip-ups). But unlike politics, unlike ideological beliefs, demographic statistics are concrete and unarguable.

    Ranting aside, what did surprise me was the natural population growth this summer. That was not expected at all. Even based on seeing July’s raw birth/death data, I still wouldn’t have predicted that. It really amazes me, the fact that the optimists who are in the extreme minority (at least in the west) are still underestimating.

    Like you mentioned, there still might be seen some sort of negative impact on trends in the coming quarter due to the fact that the crisis didn’t really “peak” until about February-March, so I wouldn’t rely too much on linear extrapolations through the rest of 2009. But assuming it’s nothing catastrophic, I would actually be surprised if the population doesn’t see overall growth in 2010.

    • Sergey Slobodyan says:

      Yes, the August point is really surprising. In the projections, the daily death rate wasn’t supposed to dip below 4.95 in Aug 2009 and Aug 2010. Actual August 2009 number is 4.86. The difference is well within what’s possible given the data, but it was an extremely lucky deviation. I really wouldn’t make any conclusions here until I see more data.

      Fertility is actually spot on the prediction for Aug 2009, no surprises there.

  4. For anyone interested in demographic trends in other regions of the post-Soviet space (for those countries that have decent statistical services) facing sub-par population trends:

    Estonia in Jan-Aug 2009 saw a 5.0% reduction in deaths and a 2.0% reduction in births relative to the same period in 2008. The annualized figures from this period, for 2008 and 2009, for births are 12.7 / 1000 and 12.1 / 1000 and for deaths are 12.3 / 1000 and 12.0 / 1000, and as such it has come within a sliver of seeing overall annual natural population growth.

    The trends in Latvia are similar (though total figures remain worse) – Jan-Aug 2009 saw a 3.7% reduction in deaths and a 8.8% reduction in births relative to the same period in 2008. The annualized figures from this period, for 2008 and 2009, for births are 10.9 / 1000 and 10.0 / 1000 and for deaths are 13.7 / 1000 and 13.1 / 1000, and as such it has come within a sliver of seeing overall annual natural population growth.

    There are English-language stats for Belarus online. Similar to the Baltics, Ukraine and Russia, during Jan-Aug the death rate fell from 13.9 / 1000 to 13.6 / 1000, however so did births – from 11.4 / 1000 to 11.0 / 1000. Total deaths fell by 0.9% and total births fell by 2.5%.

    So in conclusion. Ukraine fared the best demographically, relatively speaking, during this crisis, with both mortality and fertility seeing substantial improvements – rather paradoxical considering the magnitude of its crisis.

    Russia was second, where although the decline in GDP was large, society was partly shielded by public sector wage rises, the low levels of pre-crisis indebtedness, and translation of the $9300 maternity benefits from the future (i.e. for university education, apartment, etc) to straight cash.

    The Baltics saw improved mortality rates, but their birth rates fell – substantially so in Latvia, which is in the deepest depression along with Ukraine. The public sector there has been axes and one should also note that the downturn in the Baltics began in early 2008, instead of in October as in Russia.

    Interestingly, the most stable country, Belarus, which even saw slightly positive GDP growth (on paper anyway – I’ve had some sources telling me they’re fudging the stats), saw the smallest decline in mortality and a moderate fall in fertility.

  5. Looks like you’re reading Belarus’s stats backwards. Its birth rates are up from 11 to 11.4, and death rates are also up from 13.6 to 13.9 during the Jan-Aug period.

    Ukraine’s continued increasing birth rates are very surprising though. They’re practically in depression right now. I would expect them to be closer to the situation in Latvia (quite a huge drop in births), although I haven’t really looked at either country’s overall demographic structure so there might be some inherent underlying factor’s that I’m missing.

    • Yeah, thanks for pointing that out.

      Re-Ukraine. It’s very similar to Russia except in so far that it’s population is slightly older, and traditionally it’s life expectancy and fertility were both slightly higher (probably no longer the case, certainly for the latter anyway).

      Perhaps births rose in Ukraine for the same reason as in Russia – the effects of women now having children they had postponed earlier is simply stronger than the delaying effect of the crisis? But why is the amelioration even more pronounced than in Russia? I agree it’s puzzling and deserves investigation.

  6. Regarding Ukraine: the highest birth rates are in the western oblasts (about 20% of the Ukrainian population) that did not join the USSR until 1939, meaning that they missed the brunt of the Stalinist social engineering. Although in terms of income and economic contribution these western regions are the poorest in Ukraine, they have a different sort of poverty than in the industrialized Eastern Ukraine. The western regions are rural, the religion was never stamped out, and rates of drug use, AIDS, abortion, and other such things are much lower. Within Ukraine, Western Ukraine generally leads in quality-of-life surveys (Lviv was rated the best place to live in of of those surveys).

    Since the western Ukrainian economy is largely rural (industry generally involves food processing and such), it probably hasn’t taken a hit as has the economy of the steel-producing eastern Ukraine.

    These factors probably account for Ukrainian demographic improvement in spite of the recent crash.

  7. Sergey Slobodyan says:

    The data continues to surprise on the upside – there was (tiny) population growth in the first 9 months of 2009 due to increased migration.

    I believe that migration data is still picking up a number of people who have lived in Russia for a while but got to get legalized just now. Thus, actual population trend might be negative, but the level should be actually higher than we believe now. Next year’s census will probably give a higher population figure than the current one.

    So, based on 2009 live data the population growth rate is likely to be negative. After all post-2010 Census data are incorporated – who knows?

  8. Dear Friends

    I translated some of thoses informations and put them on my Blog that treats of Russia :

    I confirm you this population growth in august

    По данным министра здравоохранения и социального развития РФ Татьяны Голиковой, впервые за последние 15 лет в стране зафиксирован естественный прирост населения.
    Голикова отметила на заседании межведомственной группы по национальному проекту «Здоровье» и демографической политике при Совете президента Российской Федерации по реализации приоритетных национальных проектов и демографической политике, что август 2009 года показал увеличение населения России на одну тысячу человек. Так, к примеру, в августе этого года родилось 151,7 тысяч детей, а умерло 150,7 тысяч человек.


    Here are my main articles about demography in Russia :


    Best regards from Moscow

  9. Roy Coleman says:

    Great site ! As a courtesy I’d like you to know that I’m adapting Sergey’s Trend data for a book in progress and will acknowledge your contributions.