Russia Demographic Update VII

It is now increasingly evident that Russia’s population has settled on a small but decidedly firm upwards growth trend. I have been vindicated.

According to the latest data, in the first eight months of the year births fell by 1.4% (12.5/1000 to 12.3/1000) and deaths fell by 6.2% (from 14.6/1000 to 13.7/1000) relative to the same period last year. The rate of natural population decrease eased from -198,3000 to -128,800. The big fall in the death rate is due to two factors: (1) the continuing secular increase in life expectancy, due to decreasing alcohol consumption and more healthcare spending; (2) specific to 2011, the “high base” effect of the mortality spike during the Great Russian Heatwave last year.

This natural decrease was more than compensated for by 200,255 net migrants during the same period, making for a population increase of 71,500 this year to August. This more than cancels out the population decrease of 48,300 for the whole of 2010, and let it be reminded that it rose by 23,300 in 2009. In other words, in stark contrast to the avalanche of doom-mongering articles that continue to be written in the Western press about “dying Russia” – of which two of the most egregious examples are this and this – the reality is that today in net terms Russia’s population is now larger than it was in 2009.

At this point an important methodological point has to be made. This year, Rosstat switched to only accounting for immigrants who “register at the place of residence” in their population updates, as opposed to the previous method of accounting for anyone who enters the country with a permit to stay for a year or more. The former number is much smaller than the latter: whereas there were the aforementioned 200,255 net immigrants by the old method, Rosstat’s registration method only shows 68,822 (with the result that Rosstat says that Russia’s population actually decreased by 60,000 in the first eight months of this year). However, as Sergey Slobodyan (a frequent guest blogger here) noted at the JRL, this was an opaque and rather bizarre switch. For a start, even using the first method in the years before 2011, which gives far more emigrants than the by residency method, Rosstat still under-counted the numbers of migrants in Russia by one million – the 2010 Census showed there to be 142.9 million Russians, as opposed to the 142.0 million estimated by Rosstat on the basis of projections from the 2002 Census. And even on an intuitive level, doesn’t it seem obvious that far from every migrant to Russia will immediately bother (or be able to afford!) registering at a place of residence? Slobodyan speculates that the reason the new methodology was adopted was because of nationalist tensions over immigration levels in the run-up to the upcoming elections, which may have pressed the Kremlin into pressuring Rosstat, at least for the time being, into purposefully under-counting immigrants; hence the unexplained switch in methodology.

Particularly encouraging in the statistics for this year is that “mortality from vices” continues to fall very rapidly – things such as homicides, suicides, poisonings, etc., that have a much higher than average negative impact on life expectancy (because people who die those deaths tend to be younger) and the social problems they are typically associated with. Note that all of these figures are already lower than in 1990, the last year of Soviet normality (more or less). The same trend can be seen for deaths from accidents. Now to be accurate these death rates are still very high by global standards: whereas Russia’s total numbers of deaths from “external causes” (suicides, homicides, accidents, etc.) was 134 / 100,000, thus dipping below the levels of 1990, it is still far from the 40 / 100,000 types of figures in countries like Australia. No-one doubts that there is still a lot of work to be done on the health and safety front.

Predictably, none of this gets mentioned in the Western media, which is still replete with tropes about the mass emigration of Russia’s middle classes (debunked here multiple times), non-existent population collapse, and citations of outdated CIA World Factbook figures which are cited in lieu of official Rosstat ones. To the contrary, the population has stabilized, and the “brain drain” is now a mere trickle (only 400 Russian R&D specialists emigrated abroad for an undefined amount of time in the first half of 2011, which is a drop in the ocean besides its population of 143 million). Meanwhile, they have missed the true demographic apocalypse that is occurring not in Russia itself, but in one of its neighbors, Latvia, long lauded as a pro-Western and economically liberal “Baltic tiger”: almost as many people are now leaving Latvia every year as leaving Russia. But Latvia’s population is 75 times lower!

S/O, vindicated

Three years ago, based on my own demographic models, I predicted that Russia’s demographic future will be either one of stabilization, or slow population growth. 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.” This was highly counter-consensus, even scandalous, at the time, given that the debate was dominated by the likes of Nick Eberstadt and most of the main demographics agencies believed a decline to the low 130 millions was likely by 2025. For instance, in the professionally titled Spring 09 article Drunken Nation, Dr. Eberstadt wrote: “UNPD projections for the year 2025 range from a high of about 136 million to a low of about 121 million… The Census Bureau’s projections for the Russian Federation’s population in 2025 are 128 million.”

Now the big demographics agencies are recognizing that things have fundamentally turned around. For instance, in its most recent 2011 World Population Data Sheet, the PRB’s Medium forecast for Russia’s population in 2025 is now 139.0 million. In the 2010 Revision of the World Population Prospects by the UN Population Division has Russia’s population falling to 139.0mn in 2025, with the High forecast being 144.5mn in 2025. Russian statistics agency Rosstat forecasts 140.9 million in 2025, the High version being 146.7 million (note that they still use the base population of 142.0 million for this estimate, not the 142.9 million revealed by the recent Census; in reality, once this is accounted for, their 2025 would logically be by a million bigger).

Whither now? I believe the current Low scenarios, envisaging a drop to the low 130 millions by 2025, have become very unlikely – they assume that many of the trends we see today, such as falling mortality, and net emigration, almost completely stall. In the light of the government’s campaign against excessive alcohol drinking – the primary cause of Russia’s high mortality rates – and the historical successes that tend to accompany such campaigns (e.g. Karelian Finland in the 1970’s and 1980’s), not to mention the more recent Baltic experience; as well as continued economic growth that will enable more resources to be diverted to healthcare and for consumers to pursue healthier lifestyle choices; means that life expectancy will continue rising relatively quickly. Meanwhile, as long as there remains a substantial income gap between Russia and the Caucasus and Central Asia, immigrants will continue to come. Some commentators have argued that fertility convergence in those regions will reduce the number of potential migrants to Russia in the years to come. Perhaps. On the other hand, as Moldova and the Baltic nations show, even being in demographic straits of their own does not necessarily lead to diminishing supplies of emigrants from economically-behind countries.

The above graph is a set of Low, Medium and High projections from Rosstat in 2000, with the High version (green) being a stabilization at 142.7 million people in 2011. As one can see, the mere fact that Russia’s population is at 142.9 million is a surprise to the upside as viewed from a decade ago. If things go well – the economy continues growing, mortality rates keep falling, etc. – then it is entirely possible that Russia’s population will follow today’s mainstream High projections (144-147 million) or even surpass 150 million (as in my original High projection) by 2025.

EDIT: This article has been translated into Russian at (Российская демография: развенчивая мифы).

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. says

    even surpass 150 million by 2020…In my view could be even earlier given the continuing immigration trends and the natural birth increases….However till such time as natural birth increase sustain for continued periods, immigration into Russia should be simplified, even encouraged, quality being the underlying principle!

  2. Excellent work. Thank you.

  3. Alexander Mercouris says

    Dear Anatoly,

    On this whole question of demographics you have been consistently brilliant and consistently right. This is all the more impressive given that I for one find the whole subject extremely difficult. I cannot be the only person to find it difficult given that all the big demographic agencies have been proved to be wrong. It must be immensely satisfying to be proved right on such a subject when the “big guns” have been proved wrong.

    Though of no importance I may as well tell you that it was one of your posts on demographic questions that first drew me to your blog.

    One small question: do you have any thoughts as to why there was a small dip in the birthrate this year? Could this be just a quirk or might it be connected to the undercounting of migrants on the assumption that as migrants tend to be younger they are more likely to have children?

    • Thank you, Alex. It’s easier than it looks. My interest first got piqued in 2008 by the fact that what I was reading in most of the media (very bad and getting worse) was if not contradictory, at least perpendicular to what I could see at Rosstat (pretty bad but getting better).

      Some things they are getting more or less right (e.g. the catastrophic alcohol situation). Some they were getting more wrong than right (e.g. fertility trends). And some things were completely made up idiocies (e.g. Chinese settling Siberia, Muslims massively out-breeding Russians, AIDS crisis becoming as serious as in Sub-Saharan Africa [which is another oft-made mainstream prediction that has yet to happen – seriously, reading that stuff in 2006, you’d think there should now be 100,000’s of Russians dropping dead from AIDS yearly by now], etc).

      In the end it was a matter of pinpointing the real situation; then (and most people missed this) looking at macro-trends, government policies, and social changes that could alter the situation in the future; and then – mainly for reasons of credibility, actually – building a model and running No Change, Low, Medium, and High scenarios.

      One small question: do you have any thoughts as to why there was a small dip in the birthrate this year?

      Generally speaking, one can’t infer much from the results of 8 months. The current birth rate of 12.3 / 1000 isn’t a huge diverge from 12.5 (2010), 12.4 (2009), or 12.1 (2008) and we will certainly have to wait more if we want to establish whether birth rate growth has reversed.

      Now it actually WILL reverse (>99% certainty). Why? Because the 1990-2010 cohort is only about 70% of the size of the 1970-1990 cohort. This means that for the number of births to remain stable c. 2030, the total fertility rate will have to rise by about 40-50%, i.e. from 2009’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of 1.54 to 2.2-2.3 children per woman. This is extremely unlikely, as NO other industrialized country is even near that level.

      Assuming that the TFR remains at 1.50 from now on, there will be a peak in the BR at 12.5 in 2013. On the other hand, should the TFR rise to 1.75 soon, the peak in the BR will occur at 13.6 in 2014. Either way, we can be relatively sure that, barring birth rates will stabilize and then start falling soon – probably within the next five years. Perhaps the BR can eke out another increase in 2012, 2013, or even 2014, but it becomes decreasingly less likely as the lower numbers of women in their childbearing years begin to tell.

      On the other hand, this is a gradual process that will approach its nadir in the early 2030’s, before again reversing. As long as the TFR remains steady or grows slowly, the decline too will be fairly steady – occurring at a steady pace of around -0.1 or -0.2/1000 per year. But this will probably be accompanied by fairly vigorous growth in life expectancy; assuming it approaches 75 years by the early 2020’s from today’s 69 (i.e. still less than Poland today), my model indicates that that should yield an equal decrease in the death rate by about -0.2/1000 per year. So the “gap” between BR’s and DR’s in this case will remain small and steady until 2025.

      This means that in practice, under the above “reasonable scenario” (neither especially optimistic nor unduly pessimistic), all population growth will be derived from immigration to 2025. Say 300,000 per year. Subtract continuing natural decrease of 100,000-150,000 per year. Over fifteen years, that’s population growth of 2 million – 3 million.

      So to answer your question, summary: that blip may be the beginning of a gentle downslope in the BR that will play itself out over the next two decades, or it could be part of an plateau that will in the next few years begin to slope down. There’s no way to tell at the moment.

      • Now it actually WILL reverse (>99% certainty)…

        Good boy. I’m glad that Doug’s (and my) efforts to educate you a bit haven’t been entirely wasted.

        Say 300,000 per year.

        That looks increasingly unlikely.

        • It seems that you misunderstood me from the get-go, Peter.

          When have I *ever* said that birth rates will not go down sometime in the near future? I did not. Please provide a link if you think otherwise.

          It is extremely unlikely that Russia’s TFR will increase to 2.2-2.3 by the early 2030’s. Hence, consequently and logically, it’s birth rate will decrease. It is all set out in all the model runs I did, which you would know had you bothered looking over them.

          ANOTHER question entirely is the future gap between the death rate and the birth rate, i.e. the rate of natural population increase. The birth rate will , within five years at the latest, start consistently decreasing at a rate of 0.1-0.2/1000 a year (though it still has the potential for a one-off increase by c.20% overall, i.e. by up to 1.5/1000, should the TFR rise from the 1.50’s to about 1.75).

          Considering that today’s NR is at -1.4/1000, to close the gap you need only: a rise in the TFR to 1.75, and keeping the gap between DR’s and BR’s constant. HOWEVER, the death rate may well decrease faster than the birth rate does, perhaps at 0.2-0.3/1000 per year (that’s the rate you get if LE is modeled to rise to 75 years by the early 2020’s). In other words, if the reduction in the DR in the next decade supersedes the reduction in the BR by 0.1/1000, that adds up to 1.0/1000, and as such you will only then need a very small further increase in the TFR to achieve a zero NR by 2020, i.e. a TFR of just 1.60 will do.

          I think these are reasonable assumptions, and at the least one can say that it is not unrealistic that the NR will turn positive sometime this decade. In any case, it will very likely be hovering somewhere near the margins.

          • When have I *ever* said that birth rates will not go down sometime in the near future?

            Here you dismiss as a Russophobe myth the idea that “since the 1990′s cohort is about 40% smaller, birth rates will tumble again,” and claim that “a growing TFR will be able to partially, OR EVEN FULLY [all caps mine], counteract these adverse trends.”

            • Peter,

              the point forecast in the quote you cite is on “partial”. “Fully” is used as an upside risk. You might argue that the implied error bands are a bit wide, but the way you use citations reminds me of cardinal Richelieu who has reportedly said something like: “Give me freedom of citation, and I will show you that Bible is the most Godless book”

            • Pretty much what Sergey said.

              I’d also note that I didn’t specify the time-frame. So, if the TFR were to steadily increase from today until 2020 until reaching 1.8, say, then it will actually “fully” counteract these adverse trends. Of course, to continue counteracting them after 2020 it would have to rise to above replacement level rates, which is unlikely in the extreme. Hence the “even” qualifier.

              You will see from the actual forecasts here and here that none of the S/O model runs show a non-fall in BR’s.

              • You will see from the actual forecasts here and here that none of the S/O model runs show a non-fall in BR’s.

                Oops, now I’m confused. If even all your own simulations predict the birth rate to tumble by a third in the decade after 2015, then how is that a Russophobe myth?

                Besides, there seems to be a big problem with your birth rate graphs in the short term: your peaks are a lot higher (13-15.5 vs 11.1-13.2) and later in time (2015-2017 vs 2011) than those in Rosstat’s current projections (4MB pdf file, pp 505-7). Any ideas?

              • then how is that a Russophobe myth?

                Let me clarify. Many Russophobes assert that (1) birth rates will fall by 40% from today’s levels and soon (whereas in reality they may fall by as little as 20% and only by the early 2030’s, that is if the TFR rises to say 1.75) and (2) they likewise assert that this will inevitably lead to a resumption in early 2000’s-like population freefall, dismissing the counteracting effects of any rise in LE or net immigration.

                My beef with them is that they intentionally portray the worst realistic scenario as a given.

                Besides, there seems to be a big problem with your birth rate graphs in the short term

                They are a lot higher in the projections done on the main post because I assumed rather rapid rises in TFR that would level off sharply in 2015 (Low, Medium) or 2020 (High), whereas Rosstat has only a slow increase in the High scenario, and in the Medium scenario, actually a short-term DECREASE, for whatever reason, hence the BR peaking at a relatively low level and then declining quickly.

                In retrospect, the projections I did on Nobody’s request in a separate comment look more plausible on the fertility side. They tend to peak at 2013-14. The reason they differ from Rosstat is that (1) as mention above, in Rosstat’s Medium scenario they actually project a short-term decrease in the TFR with recovery in its value to 2011 projected levels only occuring by 2016, and (2) I’m not sure if Rosstat takes into account the increasing average age of mothers at childbirth, which is steadily rising in Russia (as in the West) and having the the effect of mitigating the aging of the big late-Soviet female cohort.

                I don’t know on what basis the Rosstat Medium scenario projects this short-term decrease in the TFR. My current assumption is that it will continue to modestly increase and level off somewhere around 1.7-1.8 as growing wealth enables Russians to increase family size closer to the desired size they indicate in polls.

              • … in reality they may fall by as little as 20% and only by the early 2030′s

                Rosstat predicts 20% down from today by 2018-2022 (depending on scenario) and further 10% by 2030, so I guess your “as little as 20% and only by the early 2030′s” is about as realistic as your straw-Russophobe-man’s “40% and soon”.

                … dismissing the counteracting effects of any rise in LE or net immigration.

                And they are right, in a way. It’s apples and oranges: longer-living pensioners and gastarbeiters are hardly an equivalent substitute for unborn children. The total population number is just too crude an indicator to be of much use outside of domestic propaganda.

              • Rosstat predicts 20% down from today by 2018-2022 (depending on scenario) and further 10% by 2030…

                Well according to Rosstat’s High one, it’s down by 10% by 2020, and 22% by 2030 (taking 2010’s real figure of 12.5 as a base in both cases). So my “as little as 20% and only by the early 2030′s” is hardly off the plausibility charts (I would remind you at this point that Russia pulled off the High scenario of Rosstat’s High 2000 forecast according to your own link you originally gave me).

                And as I said above, I really doubt Rosstat bothered to adjust for the expected increase of the average age of childbirth (which in Russia’s case would make a significant contribution in raising BR’s). For instance, when I modeled my TFR at a constant 1.75, I got a BR trough in 2034 at 9.7. Despite Rosstat’s TFR in their High scenario going above 1.75 as early as 2017 and reaching 1.85 by 2030, their BR’s seem to trough by the late 2020’s at 9.6. This suggests to me that they neglected to account for the increasing average age at childbirth.

                And they are right, in a way. It’s apples and oranges: longer-living pensioners and gastarbeiters are hardly an equivalent substitute for unborn children. The total population number is just too crude an indicator to be of much use outside of domestic propaganda.

                No, it is just a different form of propaganda. If it isn’t, then why did the Russophobes delight so much in talking about Russia’s plummeting population back in the 2000’s? Why is your heroine La Russophobe’s new blog called “Dying Russia“?

                Same goes for immigrants and older-lived people. Whether they are good or bad all depends on your ideological outlook. For that matter, I recall that when I said at SWP’s that one of the silver linings of Russia’s high mortality is that it relieves the burden on the pensions system – despite my qualifications it was still a tragic state of affairs – I was immediately assaulted by the legions of Russophobes as a demented Stalinist despite the statement being a simple fact. No matter what someone like myself says, I will always be a victim of the Russophobes.

                Anyone, going on… In commentary on the subject, there are countless statements to the effect that “Russia’s problem isn’t its fertility, but it’s high mortality rates.” Including according to La Russophobe itself, who constantly rants about Russia’s position in the global LE rankings. So according to them, improvements in the latter should be a big deal, no? You can’t have it both ways, Peter.

                Finally, this apples / oranges thing kind of misses the point. Longer-lived does not necessarily equate to more pensioners, as the pensions age can be raised (something that much of Europe is now belatedly realizing). Which is quite fair, as the average 65 year old today is far healthier and more able than his counterpart in 1950. Interventions, including at the genetic level, may be developed in the coming decades that will greatly expand LE. What would we be to do then, have everyone continue retiring at 60. Bizarre. Retirement will eventually have to be coupled with rising LE. And what’s wrong about Gasterbeiters (excluding the hurt feelings of the racist Russian liberals who tend to despise “Asiatics” and their nationalist/fascist ideological buddies)?

              • (taking 2010′s real figure of 12.5 as a base in both cases)

                You absolutely cannot do that, delete it quick before Sergey sees it.

        • Peter, weren’t you predicting Russia’s inevitable economic collapse a couple years back while touting America and Europe’s economic superiority in contrast? I’m sure I remember you parroting the Western media’s take on Russia’s doomsday demographic situation as well…

          I stopped following your blog because I realized you were just another LaRussophobe follower/wannabe and that there was no talking any sense into you as far as facts and logic were concerned. I don’t know why Aantoly still wastes time responding to your blatant trolling to be honest.

      • Alexander Mercouris says

        Dear Anatoly,

        Thank you for answering my question so fully.

        Viz your comment about demographic analysis being “easier than it looks”, getting a model right requires knowledge and skill and is not easy. Few people can do it or do it well. That you have done it so well is a real achievement.

  4. It is looking more and more like Russia is better off today than it was in 1989 before the collapse. But of course this will never get mentioned in the western media, which is still fighting the cold war.

    • Yes. Though in all fairness, the demographic situation in 1989 (on the mortality side, that is) was nothing to write home about.

  5. Do you really think that life in Russia is getting better, while 100% and even more is compensated by migrants?
    Besides, if to look at CIA site – you will see, that population in Russia, as per their calculations is 138 M, while Russian statistics says 141?

    • Let me rephrase you first question to demonstrate its absurdity: “Do you really think that life in Europe for the last generation or so is getting better, while 100% and even more is compensated by migrants?”

      The CIA uses outdated figures and their own in-house projections of TFR and LE that can quickly diverge from real world developments. Quite simply, keeping up to date with national statistics services is not at the top of their priority list. Read their own FAQ. Or read this.

      • Do you really think that life in Russia is getting better, while 100% of death rate and even more is compensated by migrants?

        Sorry, twas my mistake.
        But is not making demography situation in Russia any better. Or in countries, where these migrants came from. I do not think they came because of love for Russia.

        Ok, CIA losers, I admit it. It looks much like projection. But I do not quite believe official statistics either.

        • The USA, Russia’s most vocal critic, has itself been below the replacement birth rate for decades except a brief blip in 2008/09, and would be sliding backward except for the combined positive of immigration and an anomalously high birth rate in Hispanics. Expressed as a world problem, birth rates have been in steady decline for decades. Yet this is frequently portrayed as a uniquely Russian problem.

          Immigrants indeed may not come for love of Russia. What, then, inspires them? Possibility of better lives? How is that a negative? Georgia and Russia, officially, have no love for one another. Where’s the biggest Georgian diaspora? Russia.

          • I think Georgians go to live in Russia because they fear President Mikheil Saakashvili and what he has done to Georgia more than they fear Medvedev or Putin and what they have done to Georgia.

            Central Asians live in Russia for the jobs and the money they can send back home. Maybe Chinese go for the jobs and/or to study at universities in Moscow and St Petersburg.

            Being Australian-born but of Chinese ancestry, I’m curious about how many Chinese now live in Russia and what percentage of the Russian population they make up. I did come across a statistic years ago that suggested Chinese people might become one of Russia’s largest ethnic groups by the year 2020 but I haven’t seen anything like that statement since and it’s possible that both Russian and Chinese government sources are toying around with the actual figures for their own purposes.

  6. Good stuff. Thanks

  7. sinotibetan says


    Good post.


  8. The change in the methodology for counting “immigrants” is interesting. The old one certainly was too liberal; I know for a fact that it was capturing hundreds of thousands of Armenians and Moldovans who were never going to stay in Russia, and very likely it was including even larger numbers of Central Asians. The new one may be too conservative — but I would guess it’s closer to reality; if someone is really planning to stay in Russia permanently, good chance they’re going to register at some point.

    You’re still shooting for 300,000 migrants per year, sustained over decades? Because even using the super-liberal old methodology, we’ll just barely make that figure for 2011; we didn’t for the last two years, and probably won’t for the next two.

    Doug M.

    • Doug,

      a proper methodology should have everything to do with counting the number of people sufficiently connected to a country, rather than with trying to gauge where they plan to die or raise children. If they work for 9-11 months in Russia and come back to their home country for several weeks, they are effectively residing in Russia. Some of them do start second families on the side, BTW, thus becoming even more permanently connected to Russia than before.

      I feel that migration numbers have much more to do with frequency of Moscow police’s random passport checks than with actual number of migrants. If it gets easy to live in Moscow without propiska, many people would do it. They could still send their kids to school – it’s independent of the parents’ legal status. Number of non-Russian-speaking kids in Moscow schools is comparable with the new official number of migrants coming into the country, which makes me mightily suspicious that the new methodology is vastly understating the numbers. You are a permanent migrant if you bring a kid into another country’s school.

  9. Might as well put my own predictions on the table.

    I’ve said before that I think 150,000-200,000 is a much more plausible number for immigration. (Note that this neatly splits the difference between the liberal “old” method and conservative “new” one.)

    Like you, I expect Russia’s TFR to remain between 1.45 and 1.65 for a while — Russia can still keep TFR stable or gently rising by cohort effects alone, as the average age at first birth is still quite low. Combined with the crash in the numbers of childbearing-age women, this will indeed cause the birthrate to start dropping after 2014 or so. (Watch for alarms both within Russia and outside it as this happens.)

    I also expect the death rate to fall, though more slowly than you’re claiming. A life expectancy of 75 by the early 2020s is probably impossible. Most of that would necessarily come from a rise in male life expectancy, which would have to increase by 8-10 years over the next 10-12. Basically, Russian men would have to stop dying for a few years. That’s just not going to happen. (I note in passing that Russian male life expectancy has *never* gone over 65 — not under the Soviets, not under the czars.) An increase to 75 by 2030 is right at the bleeding edge of possibility.

    Finally, there’s one demographic effect that is going widely unnoticed, and that is the rise of the economically independent post-childbearing woman. For 30 years now, the pattern for Russian women has been “have a kid or two in your early twenties, then stop”. As a result, a 45 year old Russian woman is much more likely to have no children at home than her German or French counterpart. (By way of comparison, my wife and I started having kids well into our 30s; as a result, our youngest won’t reach 18 until we are both over 60.) She also has an excellent chance of becoming a widow within the next decade (since her husband is likely a few years older, and quite a lot of Russian men don’t reach 60). In any event, she’ll probably have two or three decades of active life between the time the last kid leaves the nest and whenever she retires. I don’t know what effect, if any, this may have — but it’s interesting, and probably worth noting.

    Doug M.

    • @Doug,

      Because even using the super-liberal old methodology, we’ll just barely make that figure for 2011; we didn’t for the last two years, and probably won’t for the next two.

      But note that the Census showed the population to be 142.9 million, that is, almost one million higher than estimated – thanks to the fact that migrants were under-counted. Rosstat estimates the great bulk of this under-counting took place in the early to mid-2000’s, when the registration system was actually stricter. But the method from the end of the mid-2000’s until last seems to have been basically accurate. (Plus the reason they continue using it, if in an unofficial capacity?)

      I hope Sergey Slobodyan could throw in a comment here. He knows a lot more details about this than I do.

      That said, I think 150,000-200,000 is plausible too. A lot will depend on relative economic performance between Russia and the Caucasus/Stans. Ironically, if the Eurasian Union ends up improving labor mobility, immigration to Russia may even decrease more than it otherwise would, as there would not be so much incentives to stay once you succeed in getting in (that is, if getting in again should you want to is easier).

      I also expect the death rate to fall, though more slowly than you’re claiming. A life expectancy of 75 by the early 2020s is probably impossible. Most of that would necessarily come from a rise in male life expectancy, which would have to increase by 8-10 years over the next 10-12.

      Not necessarily, and at this point I would make a direct comparison with countries like Estonia or Latvia (which had a very similar over-drinking problem but one that has ameliorated somewhat in the past decade) – which started consistently growing earlier than Russia, as well as raising excise taxes on vodka, cutting down on ads, etc.

      As of 2009, Russia’s LE was 68.7 (M: 62.7, F: 74.7); it rose to 69.1 in 2010, and on current trends, it will be 70 this year. Broadly speaking, it is where Latvia was in 1996-1998 (LE ranged 68.9-69.6) and to Estonia in 1996-1998 (LE ranged 69.7-70.1). Since then, both countries have seen continues growth in LE, and in 2009 Latvia hit 73.4 and Estonia hit 75.2. Furthermore, both saw respectable drops in DR’s during the crisis, so they would have risen still further in 2010.

      In other words, we have, over a decade, a rise of 4-4.5 years in Latvia and of 5.0-5.5 years in Estonia during the past decade. As such, assuming that Russia continues investing in healthcare facilities, continues the anti-alcohol and anti-tobacco campaigns (including raising excise taxes on spirits), etc., then an increase of 5 years by 2020 does seem realistic IMO.

      BTW, the improvements don’t necessarily have to be concentrated to such an extent among the men. In the two Baltic countries, women’s LE also grew by 3-5 years. The increase for men will thus only have to be 5-7 years, not 8-10.

      • The Baltic states saw their LEs drop to a 50-year low in the 1990s, because of transition shock. All they had to do was recover from that sharp but temporary setback.

        But Russia’s LE is currently near its all-time *high*, and the transition shock is now long past.

        So I’m not thinking it’s a very useful comparison.

        Doug M.

        • Alexander Mercouris says

          Dear Doug,

          I am not sure I understand this. Are you saying that there is a fixed upper limit to Russian life expectancy, which is below that in other places such as for example the Baltic States? Apologies in advance if I have misunderstood you or if my question appears dense but this whole subject is not an easy one for me.

          • No, not a fixed upper limit. But moving Russian LE past 70 is something that no Russian government has ever yet been able to do — even given the flattish income distribution, decent standard of living, and (relatively!) competent and efficient public health system of the post-Stalin Soviet years. This suggests that there are some hardwired challenges, structural or cultural, that will not easily be overcome.

            Since a rising life expectancy is correlated with various good things — lower infant mortality, better health generally — I’d be happy to be wrong about this.

            Doug M.

            • But moving Russian LE past 70 is something that no Russian government has ever yet been able to do

              The exact same thing could be said of Estonia until 2002 and Latvia until 2004 (or even 2007).

              and efficient public health system of the post-Stalin Soviet years

              It was efficient only in the sense of “bare bones” efficient.

              • Alexander Mercouris says

                I hesitate to enter this discussion but I seem to remember that back in the early 1970s male life expectancy in Britain was also in the mid 60s. If so and if this was also true elsewhere in the west then the divergence between male life expectancy in the west and in Russia seriously got going from this time.

                I wonder if at least part of the explanation might have been that because the USSR was a relatively closed society Russia missed out on the very important lifestyle change which took place in the west from the 1970s viz the decline of (especially male) smoking? If so then could it be that in the very diffferent social conditions that exist in Russia today lifestyle changes leading to longer life expectancy are more likely and may in fact be taking place?

              • Well, except for the years 1919-40, those countries were being governed from Moscow. So I’m not sure where you’re going with this.

                Doug M.

              • @Doug,

                Well, except for the years 1919-40, those countries were being governed from Moscow.

                I’m not sure where you’re going with this. What does the location of the capital have to do with LE? And here I was thinking it was dependent on prevalence of spirits binge drinking, tobacco smoking, the degree of development of the healthcare system, etc. 😉

                Whatever cultural differences that affect LE existed between Russia and the Baltics, the fact is that they tracked each each other closely. In fact, Moscow and Latvia are an almost perfect fit (both already having exceeded their Soviet-era peaks). Are you going to argue that there is likewise a huge structural and cultural gap between Moscow and the rest of Russia?


                Needless to say, Alex, you are more than welcome to enter any discussion here.

                The UK’s male LE was actually around 69 in the early 70’s, but you’re correct that LE between Russia (and much of the rest of the USSR) and the West only started diverging in a big way from the mid-1960’s.

                Yes, the fact that the USSR was closed off certainly played a role, in that better lifestyle choices did not creep though. But this need not have been crucial: Cuba, despite being relatively impoverished, now has a LE comparable to any rich country. The major factor in Russia’s LE decline was that just as male binge drinking (especially involving sessions stretching over several days) and smoking were going out of fashion in the West, they were rapidly rising in prevalence in Russia itself. Furthermore, the healthcare system was increasingly starved for resources by the demands of the MIC. Whereas healthcare systems in the West developed advanced ways of treating chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer, the USSR’s only provided the easiest and cheapest interventions to the general public. This pattern has only began changing in the past few years.

                And yes, I agree that now that Russia is far more of a “normal country” than the USSR, in which healthcare spending is expanding while at the same time increasing information and government incentives are encouraging improvements in lifestyle habits, LE is set to go consistently up. I also strongly suspect it has the potential to go up far quicker than the incremental 0.2-0.3 yearly gains current being made in Western LE’s because Russia still many low-hanging fruit left to pick.

        • The “transition chock” was not as severe for the Baltic nations as it was for Russia. Thus, today Life Exp in Estonia, Latvia already surpasses that of any previous period by a couple of years. Life expectancy never dipped below 68 years in any baltic nations in the 1990s.

          I would guestimate that there is a roughly 50/50 chance of russian life expectancy exceeding 75 years by 2025. They still have some easy catch-up to make.

        • Let me completely (but respectfully) disagree with you, Doug.

          Estonia’s LE peaked at 71.0 years in 1967 and again at around 71 in 1986-88, before exceeding these figures at 71.2 in 2002 and continuing rapid growth to 75.2 by 2009 (at a rate of 5.7 yrs / decade after passing Soviet-era peak).

          Latvia’s LE peaked at 71.5 in 1964 and again at around 71 in the late 1980’s, only again reaching 71.5 in 2004 and sing then going to 73.4 by 2009 (at a rate of 3.8 yrs / decade after passing Soviet-era peak).

          I would also note that both countries (even Latvia) continued to see big improvements during the current economic crisis.

          Russia’s LE peaked at 69.9 in 1964 and at 70.0 in 1986-87. With mortality rates currently down by 6% relative to last year, it is expected to reach the 70 year mark this year, in 2011.

          As you can see, the Baltics’ profiles are rather similar to Russia’s, which also dropped to a 50 year low during the transition shock (well, actually, I don’t like attributing “transition shock” to the 1990’s drop in LE: the real cause of the LE drop across most of the industrialized USSR was due not to the degradation of the Soviet healthcare system, which was crappy to begin with anyway, but the unraveling of its vodka monopoly and vodka becoming much cheaper, but I digress).

          The biggest exception that Russia will past its Soviet-era peak quite a lot later than the Baltics. (Interesting factoid: Moscow’s LE tracks Latvia’s almost exactly, reaching its Soviet-era peak of 70 by 2003 and increasing to 73.6 by 2009 – a rate of 6 yrs / decade; Moscow, of course, is a special case in that it is about 5-10 years ahead of the Russian average in economic development, and consequently social/health spending and presumably LE trends).

          • This is a very useful post. I still keep on hearing that Russian life expectancy is only slightly improved on the 58 year nadir.

            Interesting how the criminal shock therapy of the early 1990s by the Yeltsin regime and the damage it wrought in its wake is an attribute of Russia, never to be condemned. You have to prove to various twits that 70 years is closer to the mark even with all the alcoholism.

            • Apropos of the alcoholism, I note in passing that no policy of Gorbachev’s is more loathed, more despised, more condemned by historical memory than his anti-alcohol campaign.

              You can find Russians who view the Gulag system as a harsh historical necessity, and who see the Holodomor as an inevitable side effect of industrialization. You can find Russians who adore the memory of Czar Nicholas. But you’ll have to look very hard to find a Russian who has anything positive to say about Gorbachev’s historic attempt to wean Russia off the bottle.

              The current government seems to be attempting the same thing, but much more cautiously, by very slow and gradual increments over the course of a generation. Maybe this will work! Let’s watch.

              Doug M.

              • But you’ll have to look very hard to find a Russian who has anything positive to say about Gorbachev’s historic attempt to wean Russia off the bottle.

                Maybe among alkies, but in my experience opinion has been basically split in half. And while it was actually on the books it worked. Male LE remained near just shy of 65 years from 1986 to 1988, whereas in the preceding period it was at 61-62. Quite a noticeable effect that would have continued reaping gains had not enforcement started disintegrating as did the USSR itself.

              • Doug,

                at least half of Russian are women. They – especially the ones with heavily drinking husbands – tend to have much better memories of anti-alcohol campaign.

                Such women are under-represented among journalists, politicians, or bloggers, of course, so their opinion remains mostly unheard.

              • Anatoly, there’s no question that it worked. It worked great! Not only did it dramatically increase male lifespans, it led to significant increases in everything from worker productivity to infant and child health. (See, for instance,

                It worked… and people hated it. Absolutely hated it. They still do. When Medvedev praised it a couple of years back, he was roundly mocked. (Even though he carefully tempered his praise by noting that it was a good policy ruined by “idiotic bans” and “mistakes”.)

                Sergey, that’s a good point! The paper cited above notes that one reason for the jump in child and infant health seems to have been a sudden spike in paternal investment — for a couple of years, Dad was coming home and paying attention to the baby instead of getting shitfaced with his friends. Alas, it was a short-lived effect that didn’t survive the end of the campaign… but, yes, you’re probably right: I bet a lot of women have positive memories of that brief period.

                — Incidentally, I doubt the current Russian government could impose a Gorbachev-style semi-prohibition even if they wanted to. For one thing, Russian drinking patterns have changed; Russians are drinking about the same amount of alcohol as 30 years ago, but it’s from a much wider range of sources. Beer, in particular, has taken a lot of market share from vodka. For another, the Gorbachev campaign cost the state a lot of revenue (which would not be welcome) and encouraged the growth of organized crime (which would really not be welcome).

                Doug M.

              • Alexander Mercouris says

                Dear Doug,

                What is the evidence for the unpopularity of Gorbachev’s anti alcohol campaign?

  10. Sorry to get off topic but I think the readers will appreciate this story:

    “My husband was a British Paid Agent” – Litvinenko widow

    It appears Litvinenko was working for British Intelligence.

    • Litvinenko was a British spy?

      • Litvinenko was first and foremost a clown. A useful idiot who was expendable. If you want a motive for his killing then look at the stream of embarrassment he was generating for his patron Berezovsky and for the patrons of Berezovsky himself, the UK government, before the time of his death. The whole “Putin killed Litvinenko” drivel has got to be one of the most inane conspiracy theories of all time. Litvinenko was an asset for Putin.

  11. Great post, and a useful follow-on discussion. Nice to see some valid maths on the web, for a change.

    Do you have an impression as to what ‘share’ of the decline in “mortality by vices” is associated with government policy or programs (e.g. in health care and anti-alcohol campaigning), and what ‘share’ could be characterized as a natural result of a generally increasing standard of living?


    • Do you have an impression as to what ‘share’ of the decline in “mortality by vices” is associated with government policy or programs (e.g. in health care and anti-alcohol campaigning), and what ‘share’ could be characterized as a natural result of a generally increasing standard of living?

      It’s hard to say, obviously.

      On the fertility side, I think improvements are quite clearly linked to both the rising economy, and the expansion of social welfare – especially in 2009, which counteracted the effects of the economic crisis. In contrast, country that cut benefits tended to have falls in fertility levels. The clearest example of this is Latvia.

      In mortality, again its a combination of the two. As incomes raise, more can be spent on healthcare, and people tend to make better informed lifestyle choices (switching from cheap vodka to other beverages, and giving up smoking). On the other hand, direct government intervention, such as rising excise taxes on vodka, and the banning of advertising, clearly has had its effects too. A comparison with Ukraine is instructive. Ukraine traditionally has had a slightly higher LE than Russia, but in the last couple of years Russia seems to have drawn level with it. Part of the explanation may lie in that vodka in Ukraine is now significantly cheaper than in Russia.

  12. Anatoly,

    regarding why Rosstat has a drop in fertility in the Middle scenario. It’s just a speculation, but they might assume that recent increase in TFR is a temporary blip, and it’ll start increasing only later when cumulative effect of pro-natal policies shows up. Similar dynamics is assumed in the Low scenario. Only the High scenario sees monotonically increasing TFR towards 1.85.

    BTW, September births again set a record – the best September since early 1990s. More births than deaths. June-September still saw a natural increase. Jan-Sep births are just a whisker below than in 2010 (-0.6%), but there are 5.9% less deaths.

    • I don’t disagree with your point, but I don’t see why all the skepticism about a stall in the population decline. If you look at the graph of Russia’s exports and imports,, you can see that Russia’s economic growth is real and rapid. Both are increasing exponentially, interrupted only by the 2008 global super recession and have recovered their levels and exponential growth as of this year.

      This exponential growth is not artifact of Russian inflation (which was low in 2011) since this is measured in dollars. It also has little to do with oil prices. At $90 per barrel, Russia’s total exported production (7.3 million barrels per day) brings in 240 billion dollars. But as of 2011 Russia is exporting 600 billion dollars per year. The 400 billion in imports can’t be explained by Russia’s oil exports either and there is not sign of any change around 2005 when oil prices increased.

      Birth rates and mortality rates are linked to the economic state of the society. This is has been demonstrated quite clearly in Russia during the last 20 years.

      • Combined with partners Ukraine and Kazakhstan, Russia exports 10 times the steel North America does, and about half of what it uses domestically every year is domestically supplied as well. Russia is a net exporter by a wide margin, while North America is a net importer.

        It is instructive to note that Russia achieves this without enjoying most-favoured-nation alliances with anyone in the west and is not a member of the WTO. I have therefore gone from strongly advocating Russia’s acceptance into the WTO to strongly advocating Russia’s telling the WTO to go pound sand up it’s downward-pointing orifice, and extracting concessions from the “great powers” in exchange for joining.

        It’s hard to imagine Russia ever running out of timber; it has enough to supply the world with lumber. Although Russia is somewhere around fifth in the world in production of gold, its reserves of gold are second only to those of South Africa. It is extremely rich in a variety of minerals and the diversity of its geology suggests it probably has significant deposits of rare earths as well, although little exploration has been conducted to date.

        Suggestions that Russia has “nothing but oil and gas” are nonsense, and constant western media advice to Russia that it is courting disaster by relying on oil and gas for economic growth are likewise nonsense. Gas and oil are easy money, and until the world begins to diversify away from a petroleum economy, Russia would be foolish to give up the advantage that being world’s largest energy producer conveys upon it – if the USA were the world’s largest energy producer, would it be likely to limit its production in order to diversify into textiles or plastics, when there was serious money to be made by its oil companies? Ha, ha; as if. There is no indication thus far that the likely successors to President and Prime Minister of Russia are foolish, either.

        • I am hoping that they don’t apply “political pragmatism” in the case of the WTO and sign on in the hope of some sort of long term normalization of relations with the west. The recent spate of travel bans in the wake of the Magnitsky case revelations tells me that there is no interest in the USA, Canada, and other NATO states for normal relations with Russia. Seriously, the list of 60 officials banned from travel to the USA is pure propaganda rubbish as if they had any link to the case whatsoever. (Let’s not forget it was an official Russian investigation of the case that brought up the details in the first place and Medvedev called for punishment to be meted out.) Applying this list’s standard, US officials should be rounded up for what their underlings do in Iraq and elsewhere. This is aside from any gross violation of the Nuremburg convention by US invasions.

          I think Georgia is doing Russia a big favour by stalling its entry into the WTO. I hope their hate blinds them for a long time to come and they keep adding idiotic conditions, such as foreign oversight of trade with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, so that Russia does not sign on to this trap. In spite of the condescending tone from the west, it is not Russia that is desperate for WTO membership but the other way around. The west wants to use the WTO to get unrestricted access to Russia’s resources and manufacturing. They failed to turn into a banana republic under Yeltsin, buy they are still hoping it becomes one.

          It should be highlighted that none of the major developed economies did so under free trade conditions. The USA, Japan, UK, France, Germany, etc, all applied vigorous protectionist measures were not part of some WTO. Free trade works in the favour of countries like the US which is dominated by transnational corporations. Russia needs to protect its developing domestic industry.

          Regarding your point about the endless “advice” to Russia about oil and gas dependence. This is another fine example of western hypocrisy. Oil and gas are Russia’s natural competitive advantage, so following the Ricardo school of economic thought that underlies free trade, Russia should be selling these on the world market while letting less competitive industries vanish.

          • Agreed to all. This morning’s stunning announcement of the Greek “referendum” and its immediate tumultuous effect on the markets is instructive where care in forming and joining trade alliances is concerned. The suggestion by some sources that this could precipitate a meltdown of the entire European banking system is not an exaggeration, and they have to be panicking. Where would Russia’s surplus be now if it had indeed been contributed to the Eurozone’s disaster, as Kudrin once offered? In the wind; that’s where.

            • Alexander Mercouris says

              Dear Kirill and Mark,

              I agree with everything both of you have said. I first went to Russia in December 1998 at the height of the economic crisis. Though I did so as a lawyer and not as an investor or economist having seen what Russia was really like I told everybody I saw of my confidence that the Russian economy would boom as soon as Yeltsin stopped being President and economic policy became rational again. I was right and I remain fully confident about Russia’s economic future.

              I just wanted to say that the latest news on Russia’s WTO bid is that the European Union gave Georgia some sort of ultimatum to come to terms with Russia. Supposedly after this the Georgians made concessions and there are now hopes for a breakthrough, which could mean that Russia will join the WTO in December.

              If this is so (and one has to be skeptical about anything involving Saakashvili) it will vindicate the tough line Russia has taken during the negotiations. I ought to say that it will also be a major defeat for Saakashvili and a sign that the European Union has now come to realise that it is in its interests to establish a strong commercial partnership with Russia.

              As to whether WTO membership for Russia would be a good thing, the answer is that it would, but that Russia can survive and prosper without it. I ought to say that as one of the few people who comment on this blog whose memory extends back to the detente days of the early 1970s, I can clearly remember that the agenda then was for the USSR (as it then was) to join the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (“GATT”) the WTO’s predecessor organisation. That suggestion together with lots of others (such as building Lockheed Tristars in Voronezh) of course vanished like the frost in spring. This time I suspect it will be different.

              • Well, said, Alex. I predicted in my interview here with Anatoly that Russia would be a member of the WTO by 2012, but at the time I was a strong advocate for the WTO and now I am much less so. The EU may well bring pressure to bear on Georgia, and it would be sweet indeed to see Saakashvili humiliated, but conservative Republicans in the USA remain firmly opposed to Russia’s membership. They were effective for years at keeping Russia out long before the conflict with Georgia provided a convenient fig leaf, and they have not changed their minds. At present Russia has much more to offer the WTO than the other way round.

              • Alexander Mercouris says

                Is approval from Congress needed for Russia to join the WTO or is this something that can be decided by the US government without Congress? I don’t know for sure but I was under the impression that this is for the US government and not Congress to decide.

                Having said this you are of course right Mark that the usual suspects will do everything they can to make Russia’s WTO admission impossible. Even if the US government can decide the issue the question will then be whether less than a year before what looks like a difficult election Obama is prepared to face these people down. He has not shown himself over eager to do battle with them up to now and one wonders whether he would want to over such an issue. I suspect what will decide the matter is the attitude of the US business community. I have heard that it is broadly in favour. We shall see.

  13. I doubt the USA could stop Russia’s accession to the WTO if all other member states approve, because the USA dropped most of its personal objections some time ago. However, Congress could vote on – and against – adopting normal trade ties and the granting of most favoured nation status to Russia, as discussed here;

    I would not be very surprised, I’m afraid, to find that Georgia is hanging on to its arguments because of on-the-down-low support from the USA, which is using Georgia as a surrogate. The U.S. business community might be in favour if it could acquire substantial holdings in Russian energy companies such as GAZPROM and ROSNEFT, but the sacking of Kudrin made that possibility much less likely and the notion of gaining a controlling interest was never really on the table. Since oil and gas are internationally-traded commodities, the USA’s digging its heels in wouldn’t mean the USA couldn’t buy oil from Russia, although American intransigence might send the price higher. The oil majors are never averse to that, especially when they can point to somebody else and say, “It’s their fault. We don’t like to take a conflict dividend, but what can we do? If we don’t, everyone else will”.

    Updates to the linked article point out that negotiations are still ongoing right now.

  14. Alexander Mercouris says

    The latest news is that Georgia has apparently now agreed with Russia on the terms for Russia’s WTO entry. If so then Russia will presumably be admitted into the WTO in December and the thing is a done deal. I have no information on the terms of the agreement but it is difficult to see this as anything other than a defeat for Saakashvili.

    I would just make one final point. If the Financial Times is to be believed the EU’s decision to pressure Georgia over Russia’s WTO admission was caused by panic that if Russia did not join this year then it never would because hardliner Putin is supposedly against. If so then this is more proof if any were needed that Russia gets more by taking a tough line than by being conciliatory.

    PS: I happen to think that Russia will benefit greatly by being in the WTO but that would take too long to discuss here.

    • Russia is still in a good position to argue for further concessions, especially if it perceives that the circumstances you describe indeed prevail and that there is urgency to get Russia signed up.

      If I were Putin, I would say “no deal” unless Saakashvili agreed to march in the Moscow May Day parade dressed as a cheerleader, complete with short skirt and white boots. And he would have to sing “Pavarot” in Russian, accompanied by John Boehner on guitar and Mitch McConnell on backing vocals.

      • If I were Putin, I would agree to the deal with above caveat, except it would be Victory Day parade, sit on top of mausoleum watching Saakashvili perform in parade dressed as cheerleader, laugh my ass off, and then immediately cancel the deal, saying, “I was just kidding.” I agree with faction that says WTO is bad for Russia. I have respectfully listened to other side, understand their arguments, but I still think WTO is terrible idea for Russia.

  15. sinotibetan says

    Back to the original topic….

    Perhaps there is a ‘limit’ to the number of migrants Russia can adopt. Somehow, Russia’s demographic survival STILL depends on uplifting TFRs(a very difficult task….but maybe Estonia shows that it’s not entirely impossible) and improving healthcare and mortality rates(also a difficult task but if my [third world and corrupt] country can do it, I don’t see any reason why Russia cannot). I think Nationalists and Ultranationalists might become a future political force to reckon with rather than ‘Russian liberals’ and ‘Communists’ if Russia still depends on too many migrants to ‘plug’ its demographic deficit.