The “Normalization” of Russia’s Demographics

This is the first of my promised Last Three Posts on DR. It’s been a bit more than a year since my last update on Russia’s demographic turnaround, and believe it or not, the cause of this was more than just laziness and lack of time on my part. A different question started bugging me:

Is there really a point to it?

Nobody concerns himself overmuch with the United Kingdom’s birth rate, and its portents for the economic and geopolitical destiny of that land. Well, some actually do, but said concern is of the Eurabia, not the Children of Men, variety. In contrast, the image of Russia formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union was one of a desolate wasteland where women voted with their wombs against its continued existence. This might have once had some elements of truth to it, but surely this view is increasingly fantastic now that Russia’s crude birth rate, at 13.2/1,000 in 2013 – and slated to rise even higher this year – is the highest bar none in Europe. It is also, as of 2012, higher than that of the US. The only developed countries where birth rates remain higher than Russia’s are Australia, New Zealand, and Iceland.

A major cause of this is that Russia still has a relatively high number of women in their childbearing years, even though this indicator began to drop precipitously from around 2010, when the effects of the post-Soviet fertility collapse started making themselves felt. This is an inescapable structural legacy that will be making itself felt in the form of downwards pressure on crude birth rates until well into the 2030s. This is where a concept known as the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) comes in. The TFR measures the expected number of children a woman will bear in her lifetime, and is calculated by summing up age-specific fertility rates in a single year. Its advantage is that it is independent of the population’s age structure. After plunging to a low of 1.16 children per woman in 1999 – a “lowest-low” fertility rate that was once theorized by some demographers to be irreversible – it has since climbed to 1.71 in 2013, and on the trends observed this year until August, will rise further to the mid-to-high 1.7s in 2014.

(And before you ask, no, it’s not all down to Muslims. Or even significantly so.)


This map shows European TFRs as of 2013 (or 2012 in a few cases). In the late Soviet years, Russia was deep green, but plunged into the red and deep orange during the dislocations of the transition years. But it has now regained a greenish hue. A normal country, quite similar in its TFR to Finland or the Netherlands – countries not particularly known for being in a deep demographic abyss. And considerably better than the Christian Mediterranean, the Balkans, the Baltics, the Germanic lands, and East-Central Europe. It is, in fact, remarkable that the two countries considered to be Europe’s most politically “regressive” by the Brussels-Atlanticist elites – that is, Russia and Belarus – have come to possess Eastern Europe’s best TFR indicators, while star reformers such as Poland and the Balts wallow in the demographic doldrums. This must be a bitter pill to swallow for the ideologues who claimed demographic decline is a natural consequence of Putinism. Or it would be, if they ever bothered descending from their pulpits to look at actual statistics, but they don’t.

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Revealed Preference

Reprinted from Facebook (2018/02/15):

Revealed preferences: The language settings on Vkontakte social network throughout Ukraine.

Map of Natural Population Growth in the Former USSR in 2012

H/t AP for this beauty. It is for 2012.


[Click to enlarge].

It speaks for itself so comprehensively that I’m not sure it’s worth commenting further on my part here. Let’s leave that to the comments section.

Russia’s Demographics Continue to Steadily Improve

Here it is, for those who read Russian. The May data also has emigration data, which is not included in the prelimary estimates – that is here.

The main points to take away:

  • Births fell 0.3% and deaths fell 0.5%; as a result, the overall natural decrease has fallen from -57,000 in 2012 to -53,000 in 2013.
  • This is amply compensated for by the 101,000 net immigration for Jan-May 2013.
  • Russia’s population is estimated to have risen from about 143.3m at the end of 2012 to 143.4 now, with the fertile summer months still ahead. Overall, we can reasonably expect that as with last year, zero natural population growth and 250,000-300,000 net immigrants will enable Russia to eke out another small if solid population increase to 143.5-143.6m by year-end.
  • In per capita terms, the birth rate remained steady at 12.7/1000 as did the death rate at 13.5/1000.
  • These figures are, of course, for the first half of the year; in the second half, births tend to rise while mortality falls (more Russians die during the winter). In 2012, the birth rate and death rate both converged to 13.3/1000 by year-end. Barring unexpected shocks, roughly the same thing should happen this year.

And now, a brief regional comparison:

  • The situation in Ukraine is significantly worse. For Jan-May, the birth rate was at 10.3/1000 while the death rate was at 15.3/1000. Relative to the previous year, births fell while deaths remained steady.
  • In Belarus the birth rate for Jan-Jun is at 12.0/1000, while the death rate is at 13.8/1000. The death rate increased slightly from the previous year, while the birth rate increased significantly.
  • Caution should be used in interpreting these figures. In particular, Ukraine and Belarus don’t, of course, have vigorous minorities in the Caucasus and southern Siberia as does Russia – who make up a small but certainly non-negligible fraction of its population.
  • In particular, comparing Belarus with Russia’s Central region or Pskov, as would only be fair, it comes off looking very good indeed.
  • Ukraine however is definitely falling behind, especially considering that it too has a vigorous minority (of sorts) in the three westernmost oblasts which have a different demographic pattern to the rest of the country. Basically, there is no equivalent in either Russia (maybe a couple of particularly run down oblasts), Belarus, or probably anywhere else in the post-Soviet space for the very low birth rates and high death rates that characterize most of Ukraine’s eastern and central regions.

Apart from that:

  • The pattern of Russian mortality continues to get better, with deaths from external causes (aka the worst kind) falling most rapidly as has been the pattern of late. But deaths from alcohol poisoning, though still falling, are beginning to fall less rapidly. Could it be tied with more moonshine production in the wake of the big excise rises on vodka seen in the past few months?
  • The only major disease categories that saw increases in mortality are deaths from lung-related disease and from other causes. This might be tied to the unusually harsh winter seen this year (more elderly tend to die in hard winters, of the above causes).

From Russia To Russabia? Not Anytime Soon

Faced with the utter failure of their doom-laden projections for Russia’s population future to describe reality – it’s population is now not only growing in absolute terms, but even barring migration its number of births now virtually equals the number of deaths – the more guttural elements of the interwebs are now resorting to another strategy: “But it’s all due to Muslims anyway!”

A bizarre alliance of neocons, Western chauvinists, crazy Russian nationalists, Islamist fanatics, and plain Russophobes have been peddling the imminent prospect of a Muslim-majority Russian Army and a Russabia ruled from the Caucasus Emirates for almost a decade. But one does not have to be a proponent of mass Muslim immigration, or to deny that serious problems of radicalization exist in some Russian Muslim communities, to call out such projections for the fear-mongering BS they really are. Here is a graph that decisively refutes the “Russabia” thesis:


The percentage of births in Russia’s traditionally Muslim” republics in the North Caucasus (Agygea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachay-Cherkessia, Chechnya) and the Volga (Bashkortostan, Tatarstan) is a mere 13%-14% of the total – and shows no signs of increasing at a sustained and rapid rate.

It should furthermore be noted that of the above only Dagestan, Chechnya, and Ingushetia have predominantly Muslim population – and their share of total Russian births, at just a little above 5%, are today virtually the same as they were in 2006. This is especially relevant because the vast bulk of Russia’s problems with Islamic fundamentalism and armed opposition to Russian state power are concentrated there.

Only about 50% (give or take) of the populations of the other five republics is Muslim, so if anything – despite the graph being partially balanced out by Muslim immigrants in Moscow and other non-Muslim regions – it substantially overstates the actual degree of Muslim demographic influence. Needless to say, the Orthodox Russians (and ethnic Tatars) who make up half of Tatarstan’s population aren’t going on jihad to restore the Qasim Khanate anytime soon.

It should be stressed that even the figures above will only start coming into effect two decades or so down the line. That is to say, only about 13% of 20-year olds in the 2030’s will have have been born in Muslim republics; the percentage of those belonging to Muslim-majority ethnicities will be even lower, at maybe 9% or 10%. How Muslims are supposed to constitute a majority in the Army with those kinds of figures must remain a mystery.

Finally, the Muslim demographic expansion is self-limiting. A lot of the people who push Russabia (and Eurabia) are apparently under the impression that their typical family has 6 children, which in turn will have 6 children, and so on until they squeeze out everyone else. This is completely and utterly wrong. In Russia, at least, the only Muslim region with a TFR higher than the replacement level rate is Chechnya; as of 2009, it was at 3.38 children per woman, compared to 1.97 in Ingushetia, 1.96 in Dagestan, and far less in all the others – in fact, both Kabardino-Balkaria’s and Tatarstan’s TFR of 1.51 was *less* than the Russian average of 1.54. As such, far from reflecting any innate demographic strength, the current high rates of natural increase seen in Russia’s Muslim republics – or even more specifically, in Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya – are due in large part to the youthfulness of those regions’ populations. Young populations have, by definition, few old people (hence low mortality) and many young people (hence high natality). Considering that *all* of Russia’s Muslim regions with the partial exception of Chechnya – which, however, accounts for a mere 1% of its population and 2% of its newborn – are rapidly undergoing demographic transition, this is necessarily a temporary state of affairs.

Translation: Demographics in Russia and Germany

In a graphs-heavy blog post, German-Russian blogger A.S. Schmidt argues that with its far higher emigration rates and lower birth rates, Germany is now in a much bigger demographic crisis than Russia.

Demographics in Russia and Germany

I have long wanted to compare some of the demographic trends in Russia and Germany but, to be honest, I was afraid to take on this subject, since the volume of data is very large. In the future, I hope to return to this subject again because of this. Today, I will only compare a few demographic indicators to give a general overview of the situation and take away some of the deep-rooted prejudices. In the future, I plan to write more about measures aimed at the birth rate, migration, aging of the population and some non-obvious effects of policy on the population in Western Europe.

To analyze the situation, I used data from the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, the Federal State Statistics Service of the Russian Federation (Rostat), Federal Research Institute of the German population. To check my calculations I used data on the site of the World Health Organization (WHO). For the analysis I uysed the period 1990-2012.

Fertility in Russia and Germany

To start, let’s take a look at the fertility rate. The fertility rate characterizes the number of births per 1000 inhabitants per year. It can be said that the fertility rate is one of the most important indicators to measure the population. Let me remind you that the population of Russia is about 143 million people, and the population of Germany is 81 million people.


To avoid unfounded accusations of being creative with the truth, I just want to end the argument about the connection between the growth of the fertility rate and the increase in the decline of the population Russia. The chart below gives an overview between the number of births in Russia and Germany in absolute terms.

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Demography And Leaping To Conclusions

But first, a note about those two articles published here this morning: As I hope many (if not all) of you guessed, it was a scheduling accident. In particular, as regards the piece “Russia’s Economy Is Now Europe’s Largest,” this is what I expected to see once the World Bank released its PPP-adjusted GNI figures for 2012 (it always does this in April, but for whatever reason it has been late this year). Russia is already very close to Germany as of 2011, and due to a planned harmonization of its GDP counting methodology with international standards – i.e. the introduction of imputed rent – it is projected to automatically increase by 5% in addition to its normal growth. Hence the title: It’s something that’s likely to happen, hence I wrote that title with “see data” for text and scheduled it for publication on April 30th, on the assumption that the World Bank will have released its new data by then and I’d have time to write the actual post. But the World Bank dallied and I forgot about the scheduled publication date.

Now, onto the demography. In contrast to the first 3 months of 2012, when both mortality and birth rates saw big improvements, they have now gone into reverse for the same period in 2013. Namely, births have decreased by 0.8%, deaths have also risen by 0.8%, and the rate of natural decrease widened from 35,000 in 2012 to 43,000 in 2013. Mark Adomanis notes that this is a “pretty worrying development,” with “2013 is shaping up to be the year in which Russia’s streak of improving demography comes to an end.”

That is true enough if current trends continue. The operative word being “if.” But as I cautioned in my last post, extrapolating from a month or even a few months is a risky proposition, given the sharp seasonal swings in mortality. This is particularly true for extrapolations from winter months, in which there is an additional strong independent factor in the form of the influenza/pneumonia situation (which, on average, is worse during colder winters) and climatic factors (e.g. all else equal, Russians tend to drink more during colder winters). Now we know that this year’s has been exceptionally severe in Russia, so let’s look at the detailed breakdown for causes of mortality: -3% for infectious diseases, -1% for cancers and heart/CVD diseases, +18% for pulmonary diseases (e.g. pneumonia), no change in digestive tract diseases, -5% for deaths from external causes (but a +1% rise in alcohol poisonings), and +14% in deaths from sundry causes.

Now on the surface this now looks quite a lot better. Despite a harsh winter, deaths from heart disease (the biggest killer in Russia) continued to decline, as did deaths from external causes (which disproportionately affect the young and thus have an especially negative impact on life expectancy). The additional 3,000 increase in deaths from pulmonary diseases will have mostly accrued to elderly deaths from pneumonia, most likely due to the season swings typical of its epidemiology. The major, overriding question is this: What are “deaths from sundry causes” (прочие причины смерти)? I don’t know. But we can speculate. In old age, it is frequently unclear which of a panoply of ailments finally do someone in. And harsh winters are associated with mortality rises, especially among the elderly. Perhaps a large part of that 7,000 rise in deaths from “sundry causes” were simply a result of more elderly dying due to general winter causes and not being precisely classified.

In any case, I submit that three months is too short a time period to make any meaningful conclusions as to the final trajectory for the year. Again, I refer to Sergey Zhuravlev’s graph as a graphic demonstration of why that is so. Russia’s improvements in mortality are not a steady process, to the contrary they look like a series of intermittent sharp declines followed by steady periods of up to a year’s duration.

Then there is the decline in birth rates. To be fair, it is increasingly unrealistic to expect further rises in crude birth rates, because the “echo effect” is real (if often overstated, because of a failure to adjust for birth postponement/rising age of mother at childbirth). Russia’s total fertility rate started plummeting around 1991; the girls born then are now in their early 20’s. The average age of the mother at childbirth is now about 27 and rising, and up by 2 years since the 1990’s. Nonetheless, despite that counteracting effect, the fact is that the demographic “chasm” of the 1990’s continues to gain on women at their peak fertility (even if the age of peak fertility continues to increase) and it is a deep chasm, with women of the age of 5-19 making up just 61% of women of the age of 20-34 in 2012. So as there will be accumulating downwards pressure from changes in the age structure until the late 2020’s/early 2030’s we can now expect crude birth rates to start consistently falling from year to year.

A Demographic Zastoi In Russia?

Russia’s life expectancy is said to have decreased to 69.70 years, from 69.83 years in 2011 (via Mark Adomanis via Alexei Kovalev via Paul Goble via Izvestia). The figure for 2011 had in its turn been previously lowered from 70.3 years. So what gives? Does this herald a “disturbing trend”? Is Russia entering a period of demographic stagnation, just as it is (allegedly) in economic and political stagnation?

Maybe, but let me clear up the reasons for these revisions. It fell from 70.3 years to 69.83 for 2011 because of new data about the population structure from the results of the 2010 Census. Not a decline per se, just an observation that the LE should have been lower than previously estimated. There’s nothing special about this except insomuch as it is now incorrect to talk about Russian life expectancy finally breaking the symbolic 70 year mark (at least for now).

Now the decline from 2011 to 2012 is extremely unlikely to be due to an actual worsening in the demographic situation. Mortality has fallen, not by a lot but it has fallen (-1.5%), and it has fallen most in the category “deaths from external causes” (-5%) which primarily affect younger people and thus have a disproportionate (negative) effect on life expectancy. So logically LE should have increased, especially if we also take into account that Russia’s population is also steadily aging. What explains the discrepancy? As pointed out by Murray Feshback, Mark Schrad, and the commentator Alexander Matuzkov on Adomanis’ blog, the method of calculating infant mortality had changed in 2012 – the effect of which was to increase it by 25%, by bringing it into line with international norms. (I had already blogged about it here so it’s a bit embarrassing I hadn’t thought of it myself).

Now there’s also some concern that January 2013 saw a big rise in mortality (+9% y/y). Does it presage something catastrophic? Pretty much no, because month to month mortality and fertility is extremely variable in Russia, due to seasonal factors. Below is a graph from Sergey Zhuravlev’s blog that eloquently demonstrates the point.


Now this is why you should ignore wild demographic swings month to month (just as you shouldn’t extrapolate as to the future trend of global warming from the weather last night). Otherwise you may be making unduly pollyannaish or apocalyptic projections that will more likely than not end up making you look foolish.


Some people like to say that Russia has only returned to natural population stability because of high fertility among Caucasus Muslims (who will overrun it and establish a Moskvabad Caliphate, at least in the febrile imaginations of Russian nationalists and Mark Steyn). Well, that is correct in a narrow sense, but in a way that clouds the actual picture.

As we can see from the graphic above, whereas the biggest chunk of positive growth does come from the South and the North Caucasus (in practice, all of it would be from the North Caucasus, as the South still has a marginally negative natural growth), the Urals and Siberian regions – all of them predominantly ethnic Russian – have already returned to positive natural population growth, while the natural population decrease in the older, more settled parts of European Russia are now but a tiny fraction of what it was just a few years ago. On current trends, the non-Slavic Caucasian peoples will add about a million or so in the next decade, but so what? That’s equivalent to less than 1% of the total ethnic Russian population, which itself will remain roughly stagnant during that same period.

The Rapid And Mostly Unnoticed Decline Of Abortion In Russia

One of the keystones of the “Dying Bear” meme is the factoid that abortions outnumber births in Russia. As Mark Steyn put it, “When it comes to the future, most Russian women are voting with their fetus.” The only problem is that there is no causal relation between abortions and demographic health whatsoever – and for that matter it is no longer even true factually.


There were 814,149 abortions in 2012, which is less than 50% of the 1,896,263 births during the same period. As we can see from the graph above, abortion as a method of fertility control was specific to the Soviet era and has been in rapid decline since the mid-1990’s. In fact Russia’s abortion rate is now basically equivalent to America’s during the early 1980’s, a decade after Roe vs. Wade. The real story about abortions in Russia is that they have been plummeting in all its regions in the past two decades as it steadily becomes a “normal country” in this as on an array of other indicators; its overall numbers of abortions per live births (43%) are now rapidly converging on the 10%-30% range typical of other developed nations.

But this chart also brings us to another point. A recent Weekly Standard article by Daniel Halper, which makes errors beyond demography (no, Putin did NOT invite Boyz II Men to sing fertility chants), reviews a new book by Jonathan V. Last about how the long supposedly doesn’t have enough babies. Not only does he claim that there are 13 abortions per live births in Russia – a statistic that was last true a decade before the book was published! – but that it “suggests a society that no longer has the will to live.” In that case, what would have made of the RSFSR circa 1965, when abortions reached an all time peak of 27 per 10 live births? Well, in 1965 the birth rate (15.7/1000) was double the death rate (7.6/1000), and the total fertility rate was at an entirely sound and replacement level rate of 2.14 children per woman!

That is the problem with moralistic rhetoric of the “voting with their fetuses” variety. Not only in Russia’s case is it now increasingly wrong at a basic factual level, along with the “voting with their feet” brouhaha over the non-existence emigration crisis, but it doesn’t even describe how the world works in general. Abortion rates were world historically high in the post-Stalin USSR, but at the same time it had eminently sustainable fertility stats. On the other hand, modern Poland – the lovechild of Anglo mainstream conservatives like Mark Steyn and Jonathan Last – has a blanket ban on abortions, but its fertility rate of 1.3 children per woman is now considerably lower than “dying Russia’s” 1.7 or so children per woman.

In reality, abortion tends to be low in low-fertility and high-fertility advanced societies alike, because people get access to pills and realize that wearing a condom is preferable to getting an STD, being saddled with child support, and/or undergoing the physical and psychological stress of an abortion.

The Russian Cross Becomes A Hexagon

One of the standard memes about Russia’s demographic trajectory was the “Russian Cross.” While at the literal level it described the shape of the country’s birth rate and death rate trajectories, a major reason why it entered the discourse was surely because it also evoked the foreboding of the grave.


But this period now appears to have come to a definitive end. Russia’s population ceased falling around at about 2009; in the past year, it has increased by over 400,000 thanks to net immigration.

Meanwhile, against all general expectations, the birth rates and death rates have essentially equalized. Whereas in 2011 natural decrease was still at a substantial 131,000, preliminary figures indicate that it has subsided to a mere 2,573 for this year. It could just as easily turn positive once the figures are revised. For all intents and purposes, the “Russian Cross” has become the “Russian Hexagon.”


This is a momentous landmark in many ways.

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