Russia’s Demographic Resilience IV

Russia’s demographic situation continued improving this year: according to the H1 2010 data released by Rosstat, relative to the same period last year, the number of births increased by 2.3% from 12.1‰ to 12.4‰ and deaths fell by 1.8% from 14.6‰ to 14.4‰. This means that once net migration is factored in, Russia is set to register its second consecutive year of positive population growth. This should come as no surprise to S/O readers, given that both my and Sergey Slobodyan‘s projections indicated this would be the case (but the same cannot be said of those who read Mark Steyn or Nicholas Eberstadt).

This means that Russia’s total fertility rate (TFR) is likely to rise to around 1.60 children per woman this year (2009 – 1.56, 2008 – 1.49), which is similar to Canada and Estonia. These trends can be compared with those in other E. European countries, e.g. Ukraine‘s 5% fall in births during Jan-May 2010, Belarus‘ stagnation in H1 2010 and Latvia‘s remarkable 21% decrease in births in H1 2010 relative to H1 2008 (the Baltic country’s TFR will now be around 1.15-1.20, the lowest in Europe). On the mortality side, Russia’s life expectancy will likely regain or slightly exceed its Soviet-era maximum of 70 years. Guest writer Sergey Slobodyan summarizes these developments in the light of his September 2009 forecasts and February 2010 updates.

Demographic results of the 2010 H1 and 2010 forecasts

Last month (June) was very interesting. Fertility was extremely strong (about 158 thousand births, 5.7% more babies than in June 2009; in turn, June 2009 was a whopping 13.3% more fertile than June 2008) but mortality dismal (just 0.1% less than in June 2009).

The number of babies born daily in June 2010 has been among the highest on record since the early 1990’s. It beat both pessimistic and optimistic forecasts which were nicely bracketing actual fertility during the earlier months of 2009. Perhaps, the traditional summer births peak is shifting towards earlier months?

For H1, total number of births is 2.3% higher than in 2009 H1. The fertility trajectory closely shadows my “pessimistic” forecast, made using the data through Dec 2009 (and thus incorporating all the crisis fertility postponement). Total number of births for H1 was given at 864 thousand, actual number is about 867, and the “optimistic”forecast gave 882.5 thousand (optimistic forecast does not use the crisis 2009 year’s data).

Whether fertility remains in a somewhat suppressed state characteristic of 2009 or has returned to the buoyancy of pre-crisis years will be determined in the next 2-3 months. The optimistic forecast gives a very strong summer peak in July-September 2010, with fertility levels even higher than actually observed this June and pushing 170 thousand births per month. Pessimistic one sees a plateau at a much lower level of about 157 to 160 thousand. It is therefore rather hard to predict the final fertility of 2010; I currently expect 1810 to 1815 thousand births but won’t be surprised to see 1830 to 1840 thousand.

Both forecasts predict natural population growth in July and August (and optimistic extends it to September). This forecast is somewhatendangered by the mortality that has been too high recently. For H1, it’s just 1.8% less than in 2009. June 2010 mortality is higher than even in pessimistic forecast; as with fertility, the two forecastswere nicely bracketing the actual development earlier in 2009. The July figures will be negatively affected by the heat wave, which increases both natural (heart diseases and old people in general) and unnatural deaths (drowning). Still, total deaths for 2010 are solidly on track for dropping below 2 million for the first time since 1998. I would expect 1975 thousand deaths, with a potential downward risk toward 1950 thousand, for the whole of 2010.

In the worst case, natural population decline in 2010 will be 160-165 thousand. Given typical levels of migration increase registered inrecent years (around 250 thousand), there must be population growth in 2010, as was observed in 2009 but bigger.

Reasons of death continue to paint a rather standard picture: slowly decreasing cardio-vascular deaths (2% less in 2010 H1), stagnating cancer deaths (0.7% less), quickly dropping respiratory (6.2% less) and deaths from external reasons (6.1%). Transport deaths, alcohol poisonings, murders, and suicides all declined by 10-15%, indicating a further drop in alcohol consumption and/or access during nights and holidays [AK: this means deaths from “vices” have finally dropped below 1990 levels]. Faster improvement in mortality will be impossible without material changes in cardiac care and lifestyle changes (including alcohol consumption). It remains to be seen whether alcohol is consumed in lesser quantities or just in less dangerous ways; in the first case, the cumulative effect will eventually exhibit itself in a more significant cardio-vascular deaths decline.


  1. Just pointing out that in the case of Ukraine the regional differences in birth and death rates are so staggering that it doesn’t make sense to list just the country average. For example Zakarpathia has a birth rate and death rate of 14.0 and 12.3, respectively, while in Donetsk they are 8.8 and 17.1, respectively. In medicine, if a medication is 100% effective for males but 0% effective for females, it makes little sense to issue a blanket statement with a conclusion that the medication “is 50% effective.” Likewise (but to a lesser extent than in my hypothetical example), when considering Ukraine, blanket generalizations also make little sense.

    • Which leads to to wonder about the 5% drop in Ukraine’s births. Is it true of all regions or just of some of them?

    • I have to completely disagree with you. Regional differences do not imply that country averages make no sense. The demographic differences between Donetsk and Zakarpatskaya are less than for Tula Oblast and Chechnya, or even New Hampshire and Utah. Does this mean that demographic data for Russian and the US is meaningless? Even only taking into account ethnic Russian areas in Russia, there’s again substantial differences. In central Russian oblasts like Tula or Pskov, deaths outnumber births by almost 2:1. In contrast, a few regions like the Urals, Siberia, Moscow, and this year perhaps the Far East are already showing signs of slow natural population growth.

      Ukraine’s Jan-May 2010 birth rate decline and death rate decline was replicated across all regions. (Thought the far western regions seem to have shown a slightly smaller decline in the birth rate than average).

  2. “…indicating a further drop in alcohol consumption and/or access during nights and holidays…”

    Has the government restricted access to alcohol at nights and during holidays? If not, does anyone hyave any guesses about the reasons for the drop in alcohol-related deaths?

    “For example Zakarpathia has a birth rate and death rate of 14.0 and 12.3, respectively, while in Donetsk they are 8.8 and 17.1, respectively.”

    Wow. I’m guessing this is because Zakarpathia is mostly rural, while the Donetsk region is mostly urban?

    • It looks like the night access will be restricted across the whole country soon. So far, several regions have implemented local bans. Besides, since about 2006 there’s a constant stream of regulations that led to some small sale points getting out of business.

      This year, a minimum price was introduced for a bottle of vodka which has probably led to a decrease in alcohol consumption, as not everyone would have switched to alcohol-containing liquids or home-made brews.

  3. @ Glossy – Yes Donetsk is urban and Zakarpattia (in the extreme west) rural, but rural Sumy province in the northeast corner of Ukraine has birth and death rates of 8.3 and 17.8 per thousand, respectively.

    • Well, in the first 5 months of 2010 Zakarpattia had 6.0 marriages per 1000, Sumy 3.9 and Donetsk 4.1. Corresponding number of births was 14.0, 8.3, and 8.8.

      Generally, the younger is the population, the more marriages one sees. It’s likely that Zakarpattia, in addition to being more rural, also benefits from more young people.

      • Yes, that explains it. The point is that it seems to be different populations with their own, different, characteristics rather than one “Ukrainian population” with x birthrate, fertility rate, etc. An average score for very discrete groups doesn’t say much that is meaningful.

      • Yes, this must be a major factor. Also, BTW, the main reason why birth rates rise as you go east across Russia into the Urals and Siberia – the people there become younger. The cause of the still rapid depopulation trends in central Russia outside Moscow is not that fertility is a lot worse than in places like Irkutsk oblast, but that many young people have left for the metropolis and other regions while the old people remain in the country and small towns.

        That said, far W. Ukraine is far more religious / traditionalist than the more “Sovietized” bulk of the country, so I’d expect to see their total fertility rate at perhaps 1.7-1.9 children per woman relative to Ukraine’s 1.46 average in 2009.

        • That seems right. Demographically you are talking about two groups. Ukrainians who entered the USSR in 1939 have a demographic picture that ranks alongside Ireland and the Scandanavian countries in the top of Europe. Ukrainians who were in the USSR from the beginning, who went through the massive social reengineering of the 1930’s, have a demographic picture worse than the all-Ukraine average, probably not much better than Latvia and therefore at the very bottom of Europe. Kiev, is of course, anomalous within the post-1920 Soviet zone but this can be explained by the fact that it is the capital and draws in young people from elesewhere.

          Here is a map from wikipedia showing 2008 data (it hasn’t changed much for 2010*):

          Interestingly, within each zone there are specific trends. Although on the 2008 map even the worst post-1939 Soviet western province demographically is better than the best pre-1939 Soviet province, within the former group the 2 Volhynian provinces and Zakarpattia are better off than the 3 Galician provinces and Bukovyna. Within the pre-1939 Soviet provinces, things are worse in the north and the Donbas, and better in the south.

          *In comparison to 2008, Galicia and Donbas have each gotten slightly worse, so that Ternopil province has actually dipped below Crimea in natural growth rate (-4/1000 vs. -3.7/1000), while all the other regions have generally been the same or have shown slight improvement. But the trends are still basically the same.

  4. You seem to trust Rosstat alot, there’s no guarantee that they’re telling the truth, theres no video or audio feed of how they get their statistics and data, nothing appears on the news, nothing appears at all, what if they’re telling a bunch of lies?
    It’s not that I don’t believe Russia can improve it’s demographics, or that I hate Russia, I don’t, I love Russia, and I have every hope it won’t end up depopulated, but I have my doubts on how things are so suddenly and so rapidly turning great when they were horrible a second ago, reversing demographics normally takes decades not months.

    • Boris,

      if you read previous installments in SO series on demography, you’d see that the developments were relatively similar in Ukraine until the crisis as well. Ukraine was “democratic” after 2004, and it never had Putin. TFR (Total Fertility Rate) in Ukraine fell from 2.07 in 1987 to 1.08 in 2001 but then picked up to 1.30 in 2007.

      There are also cases of Baltic countries. Take Latvia. TFR was 2.21 in 1987, dropped to 1.11 in 1998 and in 2007 stood at 1.41. Estonia: 2.27 in 1987, minimum of 1.28 in 1998, and 1.64 in 2007.

      So, you see, the big picture developments in Russian demography are not that dissimilar to those observed in many other FSU countries: very high TFR in late 80es, nadir around turn of millennium, and a more or less expressed pick-up in later years. Unless you believe that Russia could corrupt statistical offices in the whole of FSU, you must admit that the effect is real.

      On your “doubts on how things are so suddenly and so rapidly turning great when they were horrible a second ago”. Things are not “great”, they just turn less horrible, and it’s still some way to go before they turn normal. Did you have doubts on fertility statistics when Russian TFR fell from 2.23 in 1987 to 1.22 in 1997 and then 1.16 in 1999? Why doubt, then, that it went from 1.30 in 2006 to 1.41 in 2007 – it’s absolutely the same rate of change?

      Finally, the data issue. All the numbers in this post are taken from this table: Note that is not part of Rosstat, and that their numbers for Russian TFR up until 2007 are exactly coinciding with Rosstat’s ones. For 2008, they did a lazy thing: took 2008 World Population Data Sheet from the US Population Reference Bureau,, and copied numbers from there for most of the countries. The 2008 Data Sheet has been issued in August 2008 which means that many numbers, including TFR and life expectancy, are just 2007 official numbers (in many countries, these numbers become officially known with about a one year lag). In addition, the Bureau publishes TFR numbers rounded to one decimal digit. This explains the demoscope’s number of 1.40 for Russia in 2008, while the official one was 1.49.

      I could do the same story over about the life expectancy: nothing at all but a partial recovery after the transition disaster. Why is it so hard to imagine that after a catastrophe life bounces back?

  5. Will Fires play any role in Rus. demographics? thanks great site.