10 Myths about Russia’s Demography

This post tries to debunk some popular, but misguided, views on demographic trends in today’s Russia. These consist of the perception that Russia is in a demographic “death spiral” that dooms it to national decline (BidenEberstadt, NIC, CIA, Stratfor, etc). Some extreme pessimists even predict that ethnic Russians – ravaged by AIDS, infertility and alcoholism – will die out as an ethnicity, displaced by Islamist hordes and Chinese settlers (Steyn, Collard).

The Myth of Russia’s Demographic Apocalypse

Think again. While it is true that Russia’s current demographic situation is nothing to write home about, most of the demographic trends that matter are highly positive – and there is compelling evidence that Russia can still return to a healthy, longterm pattern of sustainable population replacement.


MYTH: Russia is losing 750,000 of its population per year and will become depopulated within decades.

REALITY: In 1992, for the first time since the Great Patriotic War, deaths exceeded births in Russia, forming the so-called “Russian Cross”. Since then the population fell from 149mn to 142mn souls. However, the rate of depopulation has slowed massively in recent years.

As of 2008, there were 362,000 more deaths than births in Russia, down from 847,000 in 2005.  Furthermore, adding in migration would give a total population loss of just 105,000 people in 2008, equivalent to -0.07% of the population, which is a massive improvement from the 721,000 fall in 2005. The situation continued improving in 2009, despite the economic crisis, with Russia seeing positive natural increase in August and September for the first time in 15 years.

[Source: Rosstat; analyzed & published by Sergey Slobodyan @ Da Russophile].

Though this is still far from demographic salubrity, the situation today more resembles the stagnation seen in Central Europe than the catastrophic collapse of athe transition era, and the trends remain positive. As such, pessimistic predictions of imminent demographic apocalypse are becoming increasingly untenable.


MYTH: Granted, Russia’s crude birth rates have risen in recent years. But this was all due to the big size of the 1980’s female cohort, which reached childbearing age in the 2000’s; since the 1990’s cohort is about 40% smaller, birth rates will tumble again.

[Source: Rosstat; edited by Anatoly Karlin].

REALITY: From 1999-2007, only 37% of the increase in the crude birth rate was due to an increase in the size of the childbearing age segment of the population (only 10% in 2007 itself). The rest came from an increase in the total fertility rate (TFR), the average number of children a woman can be expected to have over a lifetime, irrespective of the structure of the age pyramid.

Speaking of which, Russia’s TFR has risen from a nadir of 1.16 children per women in 1999, to 1.49 children in 2008 (and thus also breaking the “lowest-low” fertility hypothesis that states that no society has ever recovered from a fertility collapse to below 1.30 children). The figures for 2009 will almost certainly show a TFR above 1.50.

This is not to say that the coming reduction in the fertility contribution of the 1980’s “youth bulge” will not exert a growing downwards pressure on Russian birth rates in the next two decades. However, a growing TFR will be able to partially, or even fully, counteract these adverse trends.


MYTH: The recent rise in fertility is small and fragile, based on the temporary effects of new maternity benefits and pro-natality propaganda. It will shatter as soon as the first economic crisis interrupts Russia’s petro-fueled swagger.

REALITY: It is true that Russia’s current TFR, at 1.5 children per woman, is well below the 2.1 needed for long-term population stability. That said, there are compelling reasons to believe that we seeing an incipient fertility reversal in Russia.

First, fertility expectations today are little different from those of the late Soviet era when the TFR was near replacement level. According to numerous surveys since the early 1990’s, Russians consistently say they want to have an average of 2.5 children. This is broadly similar to respondents from the British Isles, France and Scandinavia, who have relatively healthy TFR’s of around 1.7-2.1. This suggests Russia’s post-Soviet fertility collapse was caused by “transition shock” rather than a “values realignment” to middle-European norms, where people only want 1.7-1.8 children.

Second, a major problem with the TFR is that it ignores the effects of birth timing. A more accurate measure of long-term fertility is the average birth sequence (ABS), which gives the mean order of all newborn children. If in one fine year all women in a previously childless country decide to give birth for some reason, the TFR will soar to an absurdly high level but the ABS will equal exactly one.

[Source: Demoscope; edited by Anatoly Karlin].

In Russia the ABS remained steady at 1.6 children per woman from 1992-2006, little changed from the 1.8 of Soviet times, even though the TFR plummeted well below this number. This indicates that many women were postponing children until they settled into careers and improved their material wellbeing – a hypothesis attested to by the rising age of mothers at childbirth since 1993. As such, it is not unreasonable to expect a compensatory fertility boom in the 2010’s.

[Source: Demoscope; edited by Anatoly Karlin].

Though this may be a false positive if many women remain childless, the 2002 Census indicated that only 6-7% of women did not have any children by the end of their reproductive years. This indicates that childlessness is not in vogue and worries about widespread abortion-induced sterility are overblown.

Third, a new, confident conservatism has recently taken hold in Russian society. After two decades of disillusionment, at the end of 2006 consistently more Russians began to believe the nation was moving in a positive than in a negative direction. The state began to reconstruct an ideological basis for belief in Russia’s future, which included the aforementioned maternal benefits and pro-natality campaigns – and contrary to pessimist assertions, the examples of France and Sweden indicate that such efforts tend to be successful at incubating longterm improvements in TFR. Can it really be the case that the genesis of Russia’s rediscovery of belief in itself, and of consistent improvements in its demography, were a matter of mere coincidence?

Fourth, the cohort now entering the workforce will probably enjoy greater job opportunities and higher wages because of the imminent shrinking of Russia’s labor force. This may provide incentives to marry earlier and have more children, which would compensate for this cohort’s smaller size. Nor are they likely to be subjected to taxes high enough to discourage family formation; relative to continental Europe, Russia is still a younger nation and can be expected to enjoy high energy revenues in the post-peak oil age.

Finally, the economic crisis has come and gone – and in stark contrast to popular predictions of a renewed fertility collapse and higher deaths from alcoholism (which I challenged in the face of heavy opposition), Russia saw its first two months of natural population growth for the last 15 years in August and September 2009. So the notion that Russia’s demographic recovery is built on quicksand has been objectively refuted.


MYTH: Russia’s main demographic problem is not the fertility rate, but a dismally low life expectancy, especially for middle-aged men.

REALITY: It is true that Russia’s life expectancy is exceptionally bad by industrialized-world standards. Death rates for middle-aged men today are, amazingly, no different from those of late Tsarism – a phenomenon Nicholas Eberstadt termed “hypermortality”. This tragic development is almost entirely attributable to the extreme prevalence of binge drinking of hard spirits, which accounts for 32% of Russia’s aggregate mortality (compared to 1-4% in West European nations)

However, not all demographic indicators are created equal. High mortality rates only have a direct impact on the replacement-level TFR when significant numbers of women die before or during childbearing age, as in Third World countries. Russia’s infant mortality rate of 8.5 / 1000 in 2008 is close to developed-country levels and not statistically significant. Though tragic and unnecessary, its “hypermortality” crisis mainly affects older men and as such has negligible direct effects on fertility.

That said, mortality rates must be curbed if Russia is to avoid significant population decline in the coming decades. Contrary to prevailing opinion, plans to raise life expectancy to 75 years by 2020 or 2025 are feasible if approached seriously. From 1970-1995 in Finnish Karelia, better healthcare and lifestyle reforms reduced incidences of heart disease, Russia’s main cause of death, by over 70%. Considering the sheer size of the gap between Russia and the advanced industrial world, even modest improvements will have a big impact.

These modest improvements are now coming about. Russia is now installing new equipment in oncology centers, aims to increase access to hi-tech medical services from 25% to 80% by 2012, and is becoming more serious about implementing anti-smoking, anti-alcohol and safety measures. In 2008, Russia’s life expectancy, as well as deaths from accidents (including alcohol poisoning, violence, and suicide), have improved past the (pre-transition) levels of 1992 – and the recovery continues into 2009.


MYTH: There is an unrivaled panoply of social ills in Russia, such as sky-high rates of abortion,  alcoholism and accidents. These will induce Russians to disinvest in the future, which will result in low economic growth and a perpetuation of its death spiral into oblivion.

REALITY: Quite apart from this being a “mystical” explanation for national decline, and hence unscientific, this assertion is not backed up by the historical record. All these social ills first manifested themselves in the USSR from around 1965 (accompanied by sky-rocketing male mortality rates), yet nonetheless, that did not preclude Russia from maintaining a near replacement level TFR until the Soviet Union’s dissolution – and ultimately, that is all that matters for maintaining longterm population stability.

The Russian abortion rate was nearly twice as high during the Soviet period relative to today, but today’s prevalent fears of widespread infertility as a byproduct somehow never materialized – the 2002 Census indicated that only 6-7% of women did not have any children by the end of their reproductive years. Today, abortions continue on their longterm decline, even in the aftermath of the late-2008 economic crisis (and despite the hysterical predictions to the contrary).

[Source: Demoscope; edited by Anatoly Karlin].

Similarly, excessive alcohol consumption – the major cause of “hypermortality” amongst middle-aged Russian men – set in long before the post-Soviet demographic collapse. (Observe how closely Russia’s historical mortality trends correlate to Nemtsov’s estimates of alcohol consumption in the graph below). Yet as mentioned above, high middle-aged male mortality rates have no direct impact on fertility rates. Furthermore, since there is no major discrepancy between the numbers of men and women until the age of 40, women have no physical problem in finding mates (though it is true that high mortality and alcoholism amongst males has a suppressing effect on new couple formation, the late Soviet experience suggests that it does not altogether preclude a healthy TFR).

[Source: Rosstat, V. Treml & A. Nemtsov; note that the official Goskomstat (Rosstat) figures ought to be discarded because they do not account for moonshine, which may constitute as much as half of Russia’s alcohol consumption].

The demographer Eberstadt asserts that Russia’s high mortality rates preclude human capital formation through education because men facing elevated mortality risks (supposedly) discount its future value; consequently, this dims the prospects for longterm economic growth. This hypothesis doesn’t stand up to the evidence. The late Soviet Union had one of the world’s highest tertiary enrollment rates, and more than 70% of today’s Russians get a higher education. This should not be surprising due to human psychological factors – “deaths from heart disease and accidents only happen to other people”; and besides, even if a Russian man assumes he’ll die in his 50’s or 60’s, he’d still rather live comfortably, avoid the military draft, etc, than sweep the streets. So this argument is flawed on many, many levels.

It is true that poor health lowers economic productivity. However, one should note the caveats that 1) hypermortality disproportionately effects poorer, lower-educated people, 2) in the post-agrarian society, the main driver of productivity improvements is education – not health, and 3) there is a silver lining in that by curbing aging, a low life expectancy also relieves pressure on pensions. Finally, drunkenness by itself cannot check the growth of a vital civilization – after all, America was known as the Alcoholic Republic during the early 19th century.


MYTH: The ruling elite’s criminal neglect of Russia’s growing AIDS crisis will soon result in hundreds of thousands of annual deaths, further accelerating its demographic collapse.

REALITY: Institutions like the World Bank were predicting hundreds of thousands of deaths by 2010, yet the death toll for 2008 was only 12,800. Further, the percentage of pregnant women testing HIV positive plateaued in 2002, suggesting the epidemic remains essentially contained among injecting drug users.

[Source: 2008 Russian AIDS Progress Report].

The problem with the “doomer” models used to predict apocalypse (Eberstadt, NIC, Ruhl et al, etc) is that their projections of imminent mass deaths from AIDS unrealistically assume heterosexual, sub-Saharan Africa transmission patterns, which is unbacked by sociological analysis or surveillance data. A more rigorous model by the Knowledge for Action in HIV/AIDS in Russia research program predicts a peak HIV prevalence rate of under 1% of the total Russian population by around 2020. Thus far, it correlates with reality.

Finally, following a period of real neglect of the problem until 2005, the Russian state has since ramped up spending on AIDS to an annual 0.5bn $. One can no longer speak of official negligence.


MYTH: Faster-breeding Muslims will constitute the majority of the Russian Federation’s citizens by 2050, placing the dwindling Orthodox Russians under a brutal dhimmitude.

REALITY: Ethnic Russians still make up nearly 80% of the population, whereas only 4-6% of the population consider themselves to be Muslim in opinion polls. The fertility rates of the biggest Muslim ethnicities, Tatars and Bashkirs, is little different from the national average.

Even the Caucasian Muslim republics experienced a drastic fertility transition in the last twenty years, as a result of which the only one to still have an above-replacement level TFR is Chechnya. However, Chechnya’s 1.2mn people constitute less than 1% of the Russian total.

So the fact of the matter is that Russian Muslims simply do not have the demographic base to become anywhere near the Federation’s majority ethnicity in the foreseeable future.

[Source: Rosstat; edited by Anatoly Karlin].

Furthermore, the main reason some people fear – or relish – the prospect of an Islamic Russia is because they associate Russian Muslims with their less progressive co-religionists in the Middle East. In reality, vodka has long since dissolved away the Koran in Russia. The vast majority of Muslim Russians are loyal citizens, having made their peace with the imperial Russian state long ago; imminent dhimmitude is a myth, the product of fevered imaginations.


MYTH: The Chinese are taking over the depopulating Russian Far East by a stealth demographic invasion; tempted by Siberian Lebensraum and vast mineral riches, they will eventually seize it outright from a weakening Russia.

REALITY: There are no more than 0.4-0.5mn Chinese in Russia (and probably a good deal less). The vast majority of them are temporary workers and seasonal traders who have no long-term plans of settling in Russia. Even though the Russia Far East depopulated much faster than the rest of Russia after the Soviet collapse, at more than 6mn today, Russian citizens remain ethnically dominant.

Furthermore, the average Manchurian has no objective desire to migrate to Siberia and squat illegally in a pre-industrial farm in a God-forsaken corner of the taiga. Alarmism on this issue is a trifecta of ignorance, Russophobia, and Sinophobia (the “Yellow Peril”).

Though the possibility that Malthusian pressures will eventually force China into aggressive expansionism cannot be discounted, it would be suicidal to intrude on Russia because of its vast nuclear arsenal.


MYTH: But all the demographic models indicate that Russia is going to depopulate rapidly!

REALITY: Not all of them. I give an alternate range of scenarios that see Russia’s population change from today’s 142mn, to 139mn-154mn by 2025, and 119mn-168mn (medium – 157mn) souls by 2050.

In the “Medium” scenario, life expectancy reaches 74 years by 2025 (today’s Poland) and 81 years in 2050 (today’s Canada); the TFR rises from 1.4 children per woman in 2006 to 2.0 by 2015, before gently descending to 1.7 from 2025 to 2050; and there is an annual influx of 300,000 net migrants. (These assumptions are plausible, based on a realistic knowledge of the current situation (see above), and a modest amount of confidence in Russia’s spiritual regeneration and capability to sustain economic modernization). The resulting population dynamics are reproduced below.


[Source: Anatoly Karlin @ Da Russophile].

But even assuming Russia’s TFR gets stuck at 1.5 children per woman in 2010 – i.e. slightly lower than its level today, while retaining the aforementioned mortality and migration trajectories, the population size will remain basically stagnant, going from 142mn to 143mn by 2023 before slowly slipping down to 138mn by 2050.

On the basis of this model, I made several falsifiable predictions back in July 2008, whose fulfillment will confirm its validity (or not). The three most important predictions are the following:

  • Russia’s population will start growing again by 2010.
  • Natural population increase will resume by 2013.
  • Total life expectancy will exceed 70 years by 2012.

My results are somewhat similar to Rosstat forecasts which see the population growing to 134mn-145mn (medium – 140mn) by 2025. Furthermore, both of them are, at least thus far, more in line with reality than the older “doomer” models, which by and large failed to predict the recent demographic improvements.


MYTH: Okay then, the vast majority of models by respectable institutions – i.e., not those of Kremlin mouthpieces like Rosstat or yourself – project that Russia’s population is going to plummet to 100mn or so people by 2050.

REALITY: First, appeal to authority & association fallacy. Second, you can check the reliability of my model because my source code is open and accessible for all, which is more than you can say for many of these “respectable institutions” [edit 2012: No longer, because of this; but I am going to do a new version soon anyway]. Third, the problem with the aforementioned “doomer” models is that they are all essentially based on linearly extrapolating Russia’s post-Soviet fertility and mortality situation into the far future, assuming negligible improvements or even a deterioration (as in the models including the imminent, but fortunately non-existent, African-style AIDS epidemic).

It is my belief that Russia’s demographic “doomers” ignore the importance of the post-Soviet resilience of Russia’s fertility expectations, the evidence that Russia’s post-Soviet demographic collapse was just an aberration caused by its wrenching transition to a new socio-political system, and the newly-emerging sociological trends that are returning Russia’s to its past-and-future Empire – trends that are restoring Russians’ faith in the future, reinforcing social conservatism, and creating the conditions, with the Kremlin’s active support, for a major demographic reversal out of the post-Soviet abyss.

I would be the first to admit that this interpretation of Russian society may be incorrect, and consequently so are my “optimistic” demographic projections. Feel free to disagree with my interpretation, but do note that 1) I accurately called the economic crisis as a non-event in relation to Russia’s demography and 2) made falsifiable, near-term predictions about Russia’s future demography, which few other crystal-ball gazers care to do.

Speaking of crystal balls, I would like to end this by noting that pretty much all demographic projections beyond 20 years into the future – the approximate time needed for a new cohort to reach reproductive age – are near-useless in practical terms. Any simplistic extrapolation will eventually founder on the discontinuities inevitably produced by complex human systems: for a past example, compare 20th century French and German demographic history;  regarding the future, note the profoundly disruptive potential of two strong concurrent trends – limits to growth, and technological singularity – either of which could so radically transform human life in the 21st century, as to render modern demographic analysis meaningless as a scientific tool.

Russia Demography Sources

Here are some key resources for understanding Russia’s demography:

Demography Articles @ Da Rissp[ho;e

Finally, a list of articles on Russian demography published at Da Russophile.

  • The Russian Cross Reversed? – initial thoughts on Russia’s fertility.
  • Out of the Death Spiral – an indepth look at its mortality crisis and prospects for improvement.
  • Faces of the Future – my model of Russia’s demographic prospects to 2050, which I argue are not anywhere near as dire as commonly portrayed by the alarmists. This is because the “pessimistic” models that forecast a decline to around 100mn by that date make questionable assumptions about continuing low fertility and high mortality patterns.
  • Myth of Russian AIDS Apocalypse – prognoses of an AIDS mortality crisis are unwarranted because they rely on unsubstantiated assumptions that the epidemic would be essentially heterosexual in nature and follow trends observed in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Myth of the Yellow Peril – demolishes the myth that Chinese settlers are taking over the Russian Far East.
  • Rite of Spring: Russia Fertility Trends – most comprehensive versions of my demographic work to date, in which I argue Russia’s population will slowly increase or stagnate in the coming decades instead of plummeting as in most scenarios.Counter-intuitive and deeply contextualizing” – Thomas P.M. Barnett.
  • Russia’s Demographic Resilience – I predict the economic crisis will not have a major effect on Russian demography, especially in the longer term.
  • Through the Looking Glass at Russia’s Demography – in this summary ofRite of Spring, I note that Russian fertility expectations, average birth sequence figures and rising social confidence preclude a catastrophic fall in population over the next decades.
  • Russia’s Demographic Resilience II – this guest post by Sergei Slobodyan notes that contrary to the doomsayers, Russia’s demography continued improving in 2009 despite the economic crisis, with the population experiencing its first natural growth in August for the past 15 years.
  • Russia’s “Abortion Apocalypse”: А был ли мальчик? – a second guest post by Sergei Slobodyan unravels the media hysteria over a (non-existent) wave of crisis-induced abortions.
  • georgesdelatour

    This analysis feels about right to me.

    Isn’t there an argument that the high male mortality will soften any Russian pensions crisis, unlike in Europe?

    • AK

      Yes. That’s the “silver lining” if Russia fails to significantly raise life expectancy in the coming years, though I expect it will now that Medvedev is relaunching Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign and the healthcare system is beginning to get modernized.

  • AP

    Congratulations on the excellent post. A comment with respect to the idea you write, which seems intuitively correct to me, that the Russia’s improving demographics reflect Russia’s turn from the nihilism of the 90’s. Eastern Ukraine (such as Donetsk region) probably provides a decent glimpse of what Russia’s situation would be, if it had not started “finding itself.” There, in contrast to Russia (and in contrast to other Ukrainian regions), the population continues to fall.

    • AK

      It’s not really that black and white. In some regions (e.g. the provincial ones around Moscow), the population continues falling at a very fast rate; and in Ukraine, there is natural population growth in three provinces western provinces, as well as Kiev. Their overall fertility rates for 2008 – Russia’s at 1.49, Ukraine’s at 1.46 – are similar, and Ukraine’s fertility too has been rising in 2009 despite the much deeper severity of their economic crisis. Ukraine’s population too might be recovering faith in… something, just not in their leaders / political system.

  • AP

    Intersting. One thing I noticed from demoscope (which noone seems to mention) is that among the highest birth rates in Russia – higher than in the Caucuses – is in the Buddhist oblasts. With respect to Ukraine, despite overall improvement according to this article: [http://www.day.kiev.ua/263848/] there are still slightly more than 2 deaths for every birth in eastern Ukraine, while in western Ukraine the ratio is about 1:1. Moreover, western Ukraine never experienced the extreme dip in the 90’s (2 of the western Ukrainian regions even had very slight population growth during those years), pointing to consistent sustained demographic health in those regions which will continue to pay dividends – there will be no mini dip in western Ukraine caused by the generation of the 90’s coming of age. This is true, btw, of both Catholic and Orthodox areas, suggesting that the cause is not particular religious denomination but religion in general, traditional society, “purpose” or meaning seen in independent post-Soviet times, and/or avoidance of the radical social changes brought about by Stalin in the 1930’s (these factors are likely all linked).

    • AK

      That is all true. The 14-15/1,000 crude birth rate seen in Волынская, Закарпатская, and Ровенская oblasts in W. Ukraine would make them the leaders in Europe if they were a separate country.

    • AK

      PS. Rosstat has introduced a nifty feature which can generate a map of Russia’s regions by TFR for 2008. I took a screenshot of it and uploaded it to 7 to show that the Muslim Caucasian republics are indeed, with the major exception of Chechnya (3.4), at a sub-replacement level fertility rate.

  • True, if you can check this link in French

    Natality increased by 2,8% from january to october 2009 compared to january to october 2008.

    On the same period comparaison : 75.500 hundreds less people died …

  • R2D2

    this question doesn’t have anything to do with the blog post, but do you know which nationality la russophobe is? latvian?

    AK responds: No. And I have no intention of discussing “her”. Please keep your replies on-topic.

  • Anna Sanday

    Well done Anthony.
    Impressive site. Good research. I really wish I could have more facts that will underline and support your thoughts.
    First of all I don t believe stats from Rosstat. Any Russian State Ministry or State organisation sells all goods they have. Corruption is widespread (146 th place in Transparency International) Anthony you have to prove that the Stats are correct. Who is owning and financing Demoscope? Who supports you financially?
    Your site provides really good news. I love Russia. I have spent a lot of time in Russia. The figure 1,49 TFR is to good to be true. This is better than the TFR in Europe. It could be that the latest economic problems will eject birhtrate. Because
    Russian administration has introduced a number of good mneasures to help families, and mothers with children. Increased support, free coupons to buy craddles, pampers, chariettes, etc. Only one problem is that Detskiy Mir is taking to much of the money. Detskiy Mir is highly corrupted.
    Anthony, you seem to be well connected. Continue to force for effective measures to increase the Russian population.
    Remember that the NO-children tax was a very effective way to keep the TFR up. Also deduction of children cost in the tax declaration. This has a twofold purpose.
    1. To eke the TFR 2.Those who do not pay taxes legally will not be able to deduct. cfr USA Australia.

    Take Care Anthony

    Anna Sanday

    • AK

      Thanks for the comment, Anna.

      1) I am Anatoly, not Anthony. 😉

      2) There is no alternative to using Rosstat because state statistical organizations in all nations tend to be the only entities with the requisite manpower resources and legal authority to compile comprehensive statistics on many aspects of national life. Furthermore, FYI almost all “independent” statistics databases like the World Bank, UN, mortality.org, CIA World Factbook, etc, simply “aggregate” their data from these national statistical services.

      Feel free to disregard Rosstat data on the basis that it is (supposedly) manipulated because of corruption, but be aware that by doing so you are essentially throwing the baby out with the bathwater and depriving yourself of almost all statistical data on Russia.

      3. Who pays Demoscope? Ask them. Who pays me? Unfortunately no-one so far, but feel free to change this by making a donation. 😉

      4. Russia’s TFR of around 1.50-1.60 for 2009 is not substantially better than the CIA’s estimate for the EU of 1.51 for the same year. Though economic growth no doubt has a powerful effect on fertility planning, it should not be overestimated; fertility in 2009 has continued increasing despite the late-2008 economic contraction (see Myth 3).

      5. Unfortunately, I am not as well-connected as you imagine. The best service I can do is lay out the facts, without compromising my integrity with direct activism, and let others act on it as they see fit.


  • AK

    Russia’s population will start growing again by 2010.

    And guess what, this prediction has come true… a year early (just about)!

  • Anonymous

    Well done Anatoly!
    Great post! Finally some intelligent discussion on the topic, unlike the biased, russophobic muck that the majority keep on spewing.

  • Doug M.

    Very interesting post! Some questions.

    1) How much of your anticipated growth is coming from immigration into Russia? Are you keeping this figure constant over time, or is it declining?

    2) Where is this immigration coming from? Hasn’t much of the “near abroad” already been depleted of Russians?

    3) I agree that the “Muslim menace” is nonsense. (Daniel Pipes is one of those writers who is, basically, wrong about everything.)

    That said, it does appear that the Muslim republics will grow somewhat faster than the ethnic Russian population — in the case of Chechnya because their birthrate is still relatively high, and in the case of the others because of demographic inertia (their birthrates seem to have fallen more recently, so they have more young people).

    Have you run the numbers on the Muslim republics, and if so, what do they look like? How many Chechens will there be in, say, 2025, and how many Ingush?

    Thanks very much in advance,

    Doug M.

    • AK

      Thanks for the comment, Doug.
      Out of curiosity, did you get here from the Demography Matters blog?

      Re-1) There is a constant annual influx of 300k migrants in both “medium” scenarios I mention here, so that would be approximately 5mn until 2025 – plus whatever they contribute in fertility minus mortality over that period (overall, positively, because the model has their ages mostly clustering around 20-40 years, as is borne out by real life).

      Re-2) That is true, – almost all Russians that will ever come back, did so in the 1990’s, and there was a fall in immigration by the early 2000’s. But in recent years there has been a substantial uptick back to 240k / annum in 2007-2008 as Russia’s cultural attraction to Russians has been replaced by an economic magnetism to workers from the Near Abroad, especially the Caucasus and Central Asia. So in the longer term, assuming Russia continues to be economically attractive to its former “colonies” (or even further abroad), and assuming no major discontinuities like Aleksandr Belov coming to power, I do not think a 300k / annum figure is unrealistic. It might well rise higher, since most West European nations accept a far higher share of migrants as a % of the population.

      Re-3) To run this model on individual Muslim republics I will need year-by-year data on their age structure for a recent year. So no, I haven’t. (Furthermore, doing this by specific ethnicity is even harder because Chechens, for instance, don’t only live in Chechnya, but also have a big diaspora throughout Russia, which will probably have different fertility patterns from Chechens in Chechnya). I fully agree with you that it is self-evident that the Muslim % share of the Russian population will increase due to the inertia effect, but overall they will nonetheless remain very much a minority.

  • Doug M.

    Demography matters indeed, though I’ve been an occasional visitor in the past.

    Immigration: do I understand right, then, that most of these immigrants will not be ethnic Russians? Mostly Central Asians, yes? (The Caucasus I would say is about tapped out — Armenia, for instance, has already sent about all the people to Russia it possibly can.) And possibly some Ukrainians? Do we have numbers on the provenance of Russia’s immigrants?

    Also, is it realistic to assume several million /immigrants/? As opposed to temporary gastarbeitern? Because even in Armenia — an Orthodox (sort of) country with a long tradition of Russophilia — relatively few Armenians head for Moscow intending never to return. Some do end up emigrating, true — but the more common pattern is to stay for years, but then to move back to Armenia. Very few take marry Russians or take Russian citizenship. I suspect this is typical across much of the Near Abroad.

    ISTM that immigration is a pretty important component of your model. No? So, I’m trying to understand the underlying assumptions.

    You are right to say that many western European societies are attracting more immigrants. But I don’t think that France, German or Britain are good models for Russia in this regard.

    Muslim republics: I’m trying to get a feel here for how many disgruntled young men there will be in, say, Kabardino-Balkaria between now and 2025. My impression is that most of the Caucasus republics are entering a period of rapid aging and demographic contraction — which, while troublesome in many respects, probably bodes well for political stability. Chechnya seems to be the worrisome exception, with birthrates falling but still positive. Do I have this right?

    Doug M.

  • Doug M.

    Sorry, maybe I wasn’t clear. I’m trying to understand

    1) where your immigrants where be coming from,

    2) what ethnicity they’ll be, and

    3) what their long-term status will be — legal or illegal, permanent or temporary, naturalized citizen or remaining a noncitizen.

    My tentative impression is that your answers are “mostly Central Asia”, “doesn’t much matter” and… well, it’s not clear to me what your thoughts are on (3).

    I suspect you’ve gone into more detail; I’m just curious as to how much.

    You’re modeling ~300k immigrants per year, plus their children. That by itself doesn’t seem implausible. But there’s a big difference between hundreds of thousands of one-way immigrants who are on a fast track to assimilate and naturalize, and hundreds of thousands of culturally and ethnically distinct guest workers with little or no attachment to the Russian state.

    By way of comparison, Greece is coming up against much this issue. The Papandreou government is proposing a path to naturalization and citizenship for (some) children of (some) immigrants. This is based on a recognition that Greece’s current situation — in which 10% of its population and nearly 20% of its workforce consists of non-Greek guest workers with no path to citizenship — is probably not long-term sustainable. On the other hand, adopting a naturalization model is going to be culturally and socially difficult, even if the government manages to force it past the inevitable nationalist backlash.

    Anyway: just wondering if you wanted to flesh this out a little.


    Doug M.

    • AK

      @Doug M.,

      I haven’t done any detailed work on where migrants are going to come from. IMO, given the vast range of possible scenarios, it is probably a waste of time. Consider the following:

      1) Russia’s economic growth falters and many Central Asian migrants go back home, where they have better opportunities. If Russia gets zero net migration, then by 2025 its population will be around 5-6mn lower than otherwise, and around 15-20mn lower than otherwise by 2050 (substantial, though not catastrophic by itself). I do not view this as too likely since A) I think objective factors indicate that Russia is likely to catch up to developed nations within the next two decades, B) when European growth rates slowed down during the 1980’s-90’s their Gastarbeiters nonetheless stayed and even brought their families over, and C) during 2009, when Russia’s GDP contracted by 7.9%, net migration remained essentially flat. Finally, I very much doubt any Central Asian country will offer anywhere near Russian living standards any time soon.

      2) Russia continues developing more or less along the trajectory seen from after 1998, and becomes “developed” by 2020-25. In that case, it can compete for workers from further abroad – including from nations like Vietnam, India, etc – on equal terms with Western Europe or the US. Any reduction in Central Asian migration is counterbalanced by this migration, so the 300k / annum scenario applies.

      3) The West goes into a huge economic contraction due its fiscal overstretch; Russia fares well as peak oil, rising food demand, and global warming lead to A) high energy revenues, B) massive expansion of agriculture, and C) the Arctic north becoming a major trade hub between Europe and East Asia as the ice melts. In a few more decades, rising numbers of “climate refugees” from places like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Philippines, etc. In this scenario, migratory inflows could theoretically go into the millions or even tens of millions by 2050. Of course in this scenario of globalized anarchy and collapse, concerns over long-term demography won’t be near the top of any nation’s agenda…

      Do we have numbers on the provenance of Russia’s immigrants?

      Yes. Use Google Translate on these stats.

      My impression is that most of the Caucasus republics are entering a period of rapid aging and demographic contraction — which, while troublesome in many respects, probably bodes well for political stability.

      The Muslim Caucasus republics are all very young and have only recently had their fertility rates fall to (slightly) below replacement levels. They won’t experience demographic contractions for a very long time.

  • Doug M.

    So, to a first approximation, it’s Central Asia, Moldova, Armenia and Ukraine. About what we’d expect, yes? (Though one does wonder about the one guy from Zambia.)

    But I think we may be talking past each other a little.

    You’re justifying your 300,000 figure. No need! I think 300,000 is plausible, and I could hear arguments for more. I have no problem with that part.

    But I think you’re handwaving the provenance issue. I think it /is/ possible to make a good guess where they’ll come from. Odds are, it’ll be pretty much exactly where they’re coming from now.

    In fact, I’d make a side bet with you. I’d bet that in 2015, most immigration to Russia will still be coming from Central Asia, Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine. That’s been stable for a decade now: the gross numbers have fallen and then rebounded, but the mix hasn’t changed much.

    The issue that I see is, most of these people will be gastarbeitern. Their legal status will be “guest worker, present on sufferance”. They may to some extent assimilate, but they will neither integrate nor naturalize.

    In the short run — up to 2020 or so — this is no big deal. Having gastarbeitern as ~3-5% of your population is actually pretty common in the developing world.

    But the general experience seems to be that, as that number approaches double digits, serious tensions start to appear. And that’s what your model seems to be predicting, well before 2050.

    Doug M.

    • AK

      I don’t dispute that, Doug.

      Still, integration problems with Gasterbeiter are a world away from the world of rapid demographic (and economic, military, etc) decline painted by serious analysts like Eberstadt, not to mention less-serious writers like Steyn.

      My goal was to refute their ultra-pessimistic scenarios – not to claim that Russia won’t face any demographic challenges.

  • Doug M.

    One minor correction: eyeballing those numbers, Azerbaijan will replace Armenia. So let’s just say “the former USSR, minus Georgia and the Baltics”.

    The Armenian numbers do give one pause. Armenia has around three milllion people, very low TFRs, and negative population growth before emigration. These figures say that nearly one percent of Armenia’s population emigrated to Russia in 2007 and then *more* than one percent emigrated in 2008. If those figures are accurate, that’s just completely unsustainable. The supply of Armenians will dry up, and soon.

    — I used to live in Armenia. Yerevan and a couple of other large towns have been growing; the rest of the country is indeed emptying out, to the cities and to emigration. An Armenian town that had 1,000 people in the 1980s may have half that number today, or less, and those mostly old people and children. The countryside has already emptied out; there aren’t many more people to send.

    Doug M.

  • I was just wondering why the ethnicity of immigrants is important. Isn’t the only interesting issue that enough people live in a country to pay pension contributions and taxes? What does it matter what colour or religion they got?

    • AK

      For better or worse, the vast majority of Russians (and Americans etc) think that “colour and religion” do matter. And in the real world, the rules of the game tend to be set by majorities.

      In more practical terms, it is simply much easier to integrate peoples of your own or similar cultural background so that they “pay pension contributions and taxes”.

      • emilia

        hello, in 2010 russian census there are around 6 million people dose not declare their own ethnicity, who is these people? are they ethnic russians? thank you.

        • Jen

          Dear Emilia,

          If you refer to the Wikipedia article “Demographics of Russia”, you’ll see these two paragraphs:

          ” … According to the 2010 census, ethnic Russians make up 81% of the total population, while six other ethnicities have a population exceeding 1 million – Tatars (3.9%), Ukrainians (1.4%), Bashkir (1.1%), Chuvash (1%), Chechens (1%) and Armenians (0.9%). In total, 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples live within the Russian federation’s borders.

          It is important to note that in the 2010 Census, almost 6 million people (about 4% of the overall population.) did not declare any ethnic origin, compared to about 1 million in the 2002 Census. This is due to the fact that those people were counted from administrative databases and not directly, and were therefore unable to state their ethnicity. Therefore, the percentages mentioned above are taken from the total population that declared their ethnicity, given that the non-declared remainder is thought to have an ethnic composition similar to the declared segment …”

          If we assume the non-declared remainder is of similar ethnic make-up as the declared population, then just over 4,800,000 of the non-declared group is ethnic Russian. The Wikipedia information quoted comes from http://www.perepis-2010.ru. I don’t read Russian but if you do, you can visit the website and see if the administrative databases that the information is taken from are named. You may be able to find out which areas of Russia were covered by the databases and what the ethnic make-up of those areas is, in case you have doubts.

          • emilia

            hello jen, how you know there are russians and exactly 4800000, i want the site please thank you a lot.

            • Jen

              Dear Emilia,

              You have to visit http://www.perepis-2010.ru. I can’t read Russian so I don’t know which databases covered those 6 million people and where they live. The Wikipedia article assumes those 6 million are like the rest of Russia’s population who did declare their ethnic origin so if ethnic Russians make up 81% of the country’s population, then 81% of 6 million would be 4, 860,000.

              To put the figure of 6 million into some context, Moscow Federal City’s population in the 2010 census was just over 11.5 million. Tatars numbered over 5.3 million and the total number of people listed as speakers of Caucasian and Kartvelian languages (including Chechens, Ingush, Georgians and Cherkess) was just over 5.1 million. You can check the Wikipedia article at this link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Russia

              • emilia

                many people say-russia became a muslim state by the year 2050, are this is true? thanks.

              • charly

                Only if you consider Russian Orthodox to be Muslims. Which from a Buddhist point-of-view isn’t that far fetched

              • Jen

                I doubt very much that Russia will have a Muslim majority by 2050. The largest Muslim groups are Tatars and Bashkirs and they’re quite small numerically (5.3 million and 1.58 million respectively as of 2010). I believe they’re mostly secular and have a history of social and cultural progressiveness. They seem well integrated into Russian society and Tatarstan is a highly industrialised region.

                You should read AK’s main post above and follow the links about the Muslim community in Russia. Muslim populations are too low to be a threat and not all people who profess Islam as their religion are religious.

                If you are concerned about family sizes, you should look at the example of Iran: 30 years ago, Iranian women had an average of 6.5 children per woman, in 2010 the average was down to less than 2 children per woman. Other Muslim countries that have recorded decreases in the fertility rate are Algeria, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates as of 2009. Where economic conditions are good, Muslims are as keen as Christians to have small families.

              • emilia

                hello, jen you are right, but i want to know if the buddhist people like the buryats, tuvinians,altays is the same like muslims or not, thank you very much about your help.

              • Jen

                Dear Emilia,

                In Western countries, Buddhism has a reputation as a peaceful religion based on meditation. It’s not seen as a religion that encourages terrorism or violence. However some of the most violent and repressive countries in the world have or have had Buddhism as a majority religion. I’m thinking mainly of Sri Lanka and Myanmar / Burma in this respect.

                I believe the kind of Buddhism practised by Buryats, Kalmyks, Khakass and Tuvinians is similar to what Mongols and Tibetans practise. There may be elements of native shamanism in their Buddhism. I have a CD of Tuvinian music which includes throat-singing and this probably draws on Buddhist-shamanist beliefs.

                For over 60 years, Tibetan Buddhists had a non-violent approach to dealing with the Chinese government in Tibet but from time to time I see and hear rumours that some Tibetans are considering the use of violent protest against Chinese policies in Tibet. The Dalai Lama’s influence might not be as strong as it used to be or perhaps we Westerners delude ourselves about how influential he is among his own people.

              • emilia

                yes i know but i mean about buddhist demography-family sizes-because they have more children than ethnic russian in siberia region and the far east and maybe became majority after many years-thank you jen.

              • Jen

                Dear Emilia,

                I see what you mean. In some administrative regions of Russia, ethnic Russians are less than 60% of the population and these areas are usually the “homelands”, for want of a better term, by the ethnic minorities that live there.

                I’ve had another look at the Demographics in Russia article on Wikipedia as the information there is based on the 2010 census and it shows that Buryats and Kalmyks together number 644,761 (0.47% of the total population of Russia). Tuvans and other Altay peoples who may be Buddhists total 338,172. So the total number of people likely to be Buddhist in 2010 was 982,933.

                That’s a small number of people trying to mount a demographic attack to make Buddhism a majority religion in Siberia and the Russian Far East. Even if they tried, they’d probably not want to migrate far from where they currently live and maintain their traditions. They’d be more likely to move around Russia as guest workers on projects and send money home to their families. So Lamaist (Tibetan-style) Buddhism may become the dominant religion in Buryatia, Kalmykia, the Altay republic and the Tuva republic but nowhere else in Siberia and the Russian Far East.

                I did find on some websites while Googling that more people in the Altay republic are converting to Buddhism but whether that’s because of migration of Buddhists from neighbouring areas, native Altay people nominating Buddhism as their religion out of pride or because that’s what they’d been told to do by family or friends, or even ethnic Russians and others converting to Buddhism, is hard to say. One problem is that people’s religious loyalties are complicated and can combine beliefs and rituals from different and contradictory religions and idelogies, and this could be the situation in parts of Siberia and the Russian Far East where Buddhism and Russian Orthodoxy are recent arrivals and overlay and incorporate native shamanism.

                Incidentally I found that Yakuts also have higher fertility rates than ethnic Russians do in their region (Sakha republic) and they are mostly Russian Orthodox with maybe some shamanist beliefs.

                Here is a map I found on Wikipedia showing percentages of people identifying as ethnic Russians in the various regions in the 2002 census:

                It would be interesting to see if the 2010 census results show much change.

  • AJ

    I WAS BORN IN russia,and I thank you for this great website. i live in america. I am very very concerned that ethnic Russians will someday GO EXTINCT because of non-slavic migration to Russia. The UK, France, and Western Europe are all being replaced by black and asian immigrants. Is this likely to happen in Russia? I dont want white people to become a minority in Russia because many of my family members still live there, and i dont want them to be taken over. it is my worst nightmare that Russia be overrun by Third Worlders.

  • johnUK

    Is Polygamy helping boost Russia’s demographic population?