Russia Demographic Update VI

As we’re now approaching mid-2011, I suppose its time to give my traditional update on Russia’s demography. So here’s the lay-down:

1. In February, I predicted a population decline of c. 50,000 in 2010 (after a 23,000 rise in 2009). This was due to the excess deaths of the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010, and a substantial fall in immigration. The latest figures confirm it: population declined by 48,300. As of January 2011, it stood at 142,914,136 people (this is by the new Census estimates).

2. Three years ago, I predicted – going against 90%+ of “experts” – that the medium-term future of Russia’s demography is stagnation or small increase. In late 2009, I wrote that even under undemanding assumptions, “the population size will remain basically stagnant, going from 142mn to 143mn by 2023 before slowly slipping down to 138mn by 2050.” To give an example, the 2008 World Population Prospects of the UN Population Division predicted Russia’s population would fall to 132.3mn in 2025 and 116.1mn in 2050. As of their 2010 Revision, Russia’s population is projected to be 139.0mn in 2025 and 126.2mn in 2050 (High: 144.5mn in 2025; 145.3mn in 2050). What a difference two years make! In any case, “official” predictions are now beginning to converge with my own (not to mention Rosstat’s).

2010 UN population projection for Russia.

2010 UN population projection for Russia.

In large part, the pessimism of the earlier projections had a lot to do with the fact that the “experts” were slow to react to real-life trends, such as the improving healthcare and rising confidence that began reversing Russia’s demographic decline. For instance, going back to that same 2008 UN Population Division report – I’m not even going to talk of professional doomers such as Nick Eberstadt – note that they assumed a TFR of 1.47 for 2010-15 and 1.53 for 2015-20 (when it was already 1.49 in 2008, and 1.54 in 2009), and a life expectancy of 67.9 for 2010-15 (when it was already at that point in 2008, rising to 68.7 in 2009 and 69.0 in 2010). Though its effect was pretty minor, their assumptions for infant mortality were truly hilarious: they predicted it would only drop to 7.3/1000 by 2045-50, whereas in fact it is already below that level at 7.1/1000 for Q1 2011.

3. Speaking of 2011, the outlook is mixed. Net immigration in the first quarter slightly increased from 52,000 in 2010 to 61,000 in 2011 (but below 2009). According to the latest data for January-April, births fell from 572,000 to 557,900 (-2.5%) but deaths fell from 679,000 to 658,700 (-3.4%). This carries a number of implications. First, is the fall in births a blip or a trend? Quite possibly, it’s now the latter. The effects of the big post-Soviet fertility fall-off are now being felt in rapidly decreasing numbers of women entering their childbearing years – in 2010, there were 1.68mn 17-year olds, 1.84mn 18-year olds, 2.23mn 20-year olds, and 2.56mn 22-year olds which means that there will be a growing downward pressure on birth rates (though to some extent this is dampened by the rising average age of motherhood). OTOH, the continuing fall in mortality is encouraging; in fact, it will in all likelihood – barring a repeat of last year’s apocalyptic drought with its 44,700 excess deaths – accelerate in summer due to the effects of a higher base. According to my back of the envelope projections, it is basically a coin flip as to whether Russia will see slightly positive or slightly negative population growth this year.

4. A roundup of demography news from the rest of the former USSR (use this post as reference). Reflecting its economic crisis, births fell and deaths increased in Belarus for Jan-Apr. In Ukraine for Jan-Mar, deaths fell slightly and births remained stagnant (after falling in 2010). Those pundits who keep focusing on Russia’s imminent demographic apocalypse may find better targets elsewhere. The recent Lithuania Census indicated that the Baltic country’s population declined by about 10% in the past decade. But even that’s normal news compared to Latvia…

In the wake of its economic crisis, Latvia has seen a faster collapse in its demographic indicators than even in the years following the Soviet Union. In the first four months of 2011, a quarter fewer Latvians were born relative to the same period in 2008. That year marked the post-Soviet peak of its TFR at 1.45 children per woman, meaning that it is now at around 1.1 children per woman. In the meantime, deaths only fell by 5%. As a result, the rate of natural decrease rose from 7,100 in 2008 to 10,000 in 2010, and may register a small rise again this year. And that’s not all. Net emigration rose from 4,700 in 2009 to 7,900 in 2010, and has already reached 4,400 as of this April. From this February, more than a thousand Latvians have been leaving their country each month.

5. Check out Russian Demographics – Something Stirring in the East by Claus Vistesen at demography.matters and related discussion.

6. The past two years have been good ones for censuses. India’s population rose to 1.21bn in 2011 (181mn increase since 2001), with a worsening in the child sex ratio to 109 boys per 100 girls and a rise in literacy from 65% to 74%.

China’s population rose to 1.34bn in 2010 (74mn increase since 2000), a less than expected increase that implies its fertility rate has shrank to about 1.4 children per woman in the last decade. Furthermore, the continually big child sex disparity – there are 118 boys to 100 girls – means that the effective fertility rate is even lower. Literacy is now practically universal at 96%, the share of the population with a college degree doubled to 8.5%, and there is now an even divide between rural and urban inhabitants.

The 2010 US Census had no surprises or matters of particular interest, you can read about it here.

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