Russia’s Demographic Resilience V

In summary, the excess deaths from the once-in-10,000-years heatwave canceled out most of the increase in births, causing the rate of natural decrease to fall by only 7,400 relative to 2009. Adding in the 82,500 drop in net immigration for Jan-Nov 2009, and we can estimate that Russia’s population will fall by about 50,000 this year (cf. an increase of 23,300 in 2009).

Continuing my tradition of tracking demography across Eurasia generally, let’s take in the wider picture. A fall in births – probably caused by the POR’s austerity policies – caused Ukraine’s natural population decrease to rise from 172,570 in 2009 to 181,505. An increase in net migration from 11,792 to 14,469 means a population loss of about 167,000 in 2010.

Belarus registered a deterioration, with birth rates falling from 11.5 / 1000 to 11.4 / 1000, and death rates rising from 14.2 / 1000 to 14.5 / 1000. This is somewhat puzzling since according to the official statistics, Belarus was hardly affected by the global economic crisis.

But it has nothing on Latvia. In the thrall of a Great Depression-scale collapse, its birth rates have dropped by about 25% relative to 2008. This means that its total fertility rate has collapsed from its post-Soviet peak of 1.45 children per woman in 2008 to around 1.1 today. Its net emigration has risen from 200 / month in 2008 to 700 / month in 2010. All things considered, it’s probably in Europe’s deepest economic hole now.

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. Belarus, Ukraine and Latvia?

    Ukraine is perhaps the only country in the world with a demographic profile that is clearly worse than Russia’s in every possible respect. But I’m not sure if placing”very bad” next to “catastrophic” is really a useful comparison.

    As I noted the last time this came up, calling the heat wave a one-off may not be useful either. The heat wave may have been a “1 in 10,000 year” episode (though I really doubt it). But if you consider it as an episode in the category of “ecological / climactic disaster”, well, Russia has seen several of those in the last century. And if you consider it in the category of “deadly screwup of state administration”, well, Russia has seen a bunch of those too.

    In any event, the key metric for Russia over the next few years is going to be /gross number of births/. Everything else is secondary. TFR is going to be a confusing number for the next little while, because cohort numbers in the reproductive years are going to crash as the “empty cohorts” of the 1990s start filling up the peak childbearing years. In the next decade, there are going to be a lot fewer women between 18 and 30; keeping the gross birthrate stable will require TFR to jump by quite a bit. Perhaps it will! We’ll see.

    Doug M.

    • (1) I think there’s a significant number of countries with worse demographic prospects than Russia, e.g. Japan; Germany; Italy; Spain; post-crisis Latvia.

      (2) I mentioned the heatwave so as to make the trend more visible. I do not think the response was a “deadly screwup of state administration.” It was a 10,000-year event using the climatic history of the past few thousand years as a background; obviously, global warming is going to be making such events more frequent. But it will affect many other places and adaptation is possible to an extent.

      (3) Crash isn’t quite accurate; I suggest “slide” is a more accurate way of putting it, reaching a trough sometime in the late 2020’s to early 2030’s. But if life expectancy keeps steadily converging to 75 years during the next two decades, and migration is the same as the annual average for the late 2000’s, then even a TFR of around 1.6 (i.e. about what it is today) will keep the population essentially stagnant.

    • The TFR for ethnic Hungarians in Hungary is less than 1. They have also experienced a big drop in life span, though not as severe as Russia. Similar things are happening in Romania. Bulgaria has such a huge outward migration that it is one of the most rapidly depopulating countries in the world. Estonia has the second highest HIV rate in Europe. It is not just Latvia, Ukraine, and Russia. It is all of Eastern Europe that is suffering under the neoliberals.

  2. 1) That’s why I said “worse in every possible respect”. Italy, for instance, has a lower TFR but both a higher rate of immigration (current) and much higher potential for immigration (future).

    2) Dude. Dealing with large fires is a state responsibility pretty much by definition. The single biggest component of the heat wave deaths was respiratory failure among the elderly brought on by smoke inhalation. That was because of the wildfires, and the failure to control the wildfires was a massive failure of state administration.

    Comparanda: at this point you bring up the French heat wave of 2003, with its 14,000 deaths. Then I point out that that, too, was a massive failure of state administration. And then I note there have been a dozen heat waves nearly as bad in the last half century, including the Australian one of 2003 and the Midwestern US one of 1995 — but with death tolls in the dozens or hundreds instead of the tens of thousands. Hell, the worst North American heat wave of the century was in *1936* — before the advent of air conditioning and most of modern medicine. It was, in duration and rise over base temperatures, every bit as bad as Russia in 2010. But despite the primitive technology and medicine of those times, the death rate was “only” 5,000 or so.

    For that matter, the heat wave of 2010 stretched into Mongolia and northern China; those areas saw weather nearly as bad as central Russia. It didn’t make the news, though — because hardly anyone died.

    3) Russia’s low life expectancy has mostly been driven by spectacularly high death rates among men over 50. Fixing that would promptly push the life expectancy over 70, which would be great. But its long-term demographic impact would be pretty close to zero, because guys over 50 aren’t much involved in reproduction any more.

    A country’s reproductive future is all about women in prime reproductive years. For Russia, that’s 18-30. — One interesting difference between Russia and, say, Germany is that Russian women pretty much refuse to have kids after age 33 or so. (The German fertility rate for women over 35 is more than three times that of Russia!) That’s both good and bad. It’s good because it leaves a big reserve of unused reproductive years, should the culture shift and women start changing their minds. (The technical term here is “tempo effect”: you get as many or more births, just spread out over a longer period.) It’s bad because if the culture doesn’t shift, Russia will stay stuck with a very narrow cohort of reproductive females, which is currently the case.

    Crash: Russia’s net birth rate dropped by around a third between 1990 and 1995. So come 2020, Russia’s going to have a lot fewer women in those reproductive cohorts. A TFR of 1.6 means they’ll have even fewer daughters to replace themselves.

    Immigration: as you know, I’m a bit more pessimistic than you about Russia’s long-term prospects for attracting and accepting immigration. IMS you were claiming that Russia could attract 300,000 immigrants per year over the next 30 years. I submit that, at the moment, that’s looking very unlikely.

    Doug M.

    • (1) I’m skeptical about Italy ability to draw in many immigrants in the future. Its main source, the Balkans, are developing bit by bit, and more importantly, very few people think it has bright economic prospects (aging population, sclerotic economy, big debts; BTW, the Goldman Sachs Dreaming with BRICs growth model pegged Italy as the poorest member of the G8 by 2050).

      (2) The scale of the fires was so massive that no amount of effective state administration could have controlled them, as I argued in a post at the time. The unheard of heat (for the region), as well as the legacy of dried out peat bogs from the Soviet era, made it unavoidable.

      Your comparanda is far too simplistic, IMO. For a start, the US heartland in 1936 was both much younger and less urbanized than Russia in 2010. In fact, if you look at the mortality statistics in detail, you’ll see that the vast majority of deaths were in Moscow, St.-Petersburg, and Nizhniy Novgorod. Death rates in the countryside remained almost unaffected.

      (3) Actually the average age at childbirth has been rising in Russia, since reaching a low in 1994. As it is a stable trend, and one common to almost all European countries, it is reasonable to expect it to continue – hence my referring to the outcome as more like a slide than a crash (as you rightly point out due to the tempo effect).

      • Italy’s current net immigration rate is around 0.21 per thousand, and that’s been surprisingly steady for a generation now. The Balkans are not yet drying up, as Italy continues to attract large numbers of Albanians, Bulgarians, Romanians, and Croats. Italy’s aging population is actually a plus here, as the immigrants are taking jobs that are too strenuous, low-paying, or low-status for Italians.

        (Of course, with the exception of Albania, the Balkan countries of origin are themselves very rapidly aging. So this is exacerbating the demographic issues of places like Romania and Bulgaria. But that’s their problem, not Italy’s.)

        From a demographic POV, it’s noteworthy that (1) Italy is attracting relatively high numbers of young women (as distinct from some countries that are disproportionately attracting male immigrants); and, (2) Italy does have a path to naturalization and is willing to accept a steady flow of immigrants into Italian citizenship, as long as they are from “acceptable” origin countries — viz., it’s much easier for a Romanian or even an Albanian to become Italian than it is for a Libyan or a Somali. So not only is Italy attracting a moderate steady flow of immigrants, but a fairly high proportion of those immigrants are going to “stick”, becoming Italian and adding kids of their own.

        — It’s certainly possible that Italy’s long-term economic decline will continue. And it’s also possible that in the long term this will make Italy less attractive for immigrants. But everything that’s wrong with Italy has been wrong for a while now, and the flow hasn’t faltered yet. So I think it’s plausible that it will continue, at least for the short and medium term.

        But to bring it back to Russia: I note again that your projection of 300,000 to Russia per year is looking dubious. Okay, that was a 2009 prediction. Much could change! But if in another couple of years net immigration continues to poke along at half that level or less, then I think it’ll be time to reconsider the model. No?

        2) The US urbanization rate in the 1930s was around 57%. Lower than modern Russia’s ~72%, but not grossly so.

        Anyway: the question here is, was this a one-off? If nothing comparably bad happens in the next 20 years, then I’d say yes, it was. Let’s check back in 2031.

        3) Average age at first birth has been slowly rising but is still low by European standards — and it’s not the key metric here, anyhow.

        The question is, when do women have children? In (say) Germany, the distribution is relatively flat. Biology places sharp restrictions on how much you can bend that curve, but nonetheless it’s pretty striking — while Germans have few kids, they have them at all ages from early 20s to late 30s.

        The Russian curve is much narrower and sharper. To a first approximation, Russian women only have babies between 20 and 30 — something over 80% of Russian kids are born to mothers in these age cohorts, as opposed to around 63-65% for Germans.

        So an increasing age of first births /by itself/ only makes the situation more extreme — it pushes on one side of the curve, sharpening and steepening it. You’re only going to get a tempo effect if the curve as a whole starts moving to the right.

        Doug M.

    • Rats, so much for my attempts to use tags. Both links actually work there, BTW, but here they are in text:

      Doug didn’t mention another possibility for Latvia – it’s very likely that outmigration has been much larger recently than reported in official data. Even if those people still have kids given all the disruption to their lives, there must be some temporary drop.

      On future prospects – well, many people have been wrong before by expecting a crisis fertility drop in Russia, for example. No one argues against demographic pit coming our way, but that’s already included into projections. Still, the official demographic projection (middle variant) which foresees Russian population stagnating till 2030 or so, does not foresee TFR rising to 1.6 until 2020. True, it implies migration rising to 350 thousand per year, but at the same time life expectancy is seen as essentially stagnating (rising by just 2.4 years between 2010 and 2020). And this guys are aware of the age and gender structure of Russian population.

      So, overall, I’d say that chances of Russian population being essentially unchanged till 2020 or 2025 are not that bad.

  3. Petri Hekkala says

    “That’s why I said “worse in every possible respect”. Italy, for instance, has a lower TFR but both a higher rate of immigration (current) and much higher potential for immigration (future)”

    High TFR is better than high immigration. Immigration almost always causes problems if the immigrants come from countries with different culture and religion (Islam).

    • The US had similar problems with Catholic immigrants in the middle to late 19th century. A century later, they’re almost completely forgotten.

      (The US Supreme Court consists of six Catholics and three Jews. As recently as the 1960s, this would have been utterly unthinkable. Today it elicits nothing more than a “huh”.)

      — That said, yeah, in the short to medium term some immigrants are easier to assimilate than others. And some countries have greater or lesser absorption capacity. Anatoly and I have gone back and forth over this particular ground before. He thinks Russia is going to be able to absorb several million Central Asians over the next generation or two; I’m a lot less certain.

      Doug M.

  4. Given the enormos differences in Ukainian demographics by region, do you have any recent data on the country that looks at regions? Here is a map based on 2008 numbers:

    The regional differences are so great that it seems to make little sense to consider the country as a whole using an average number for wildly different regions. Is the currrent situation the same or have trends changed? Has the situation tten worse in the west or delclined everywhere?

  5. Bottom line is that Russia’s much-expected-in-the-west disappearance has been greatly exaggerated. Every year the many extrapolations based on the 1990s collapse look more and more absurd.

    The 2010 Russian heat wave was much worse than the 2003 European heatwave where the deaths were due to heat and not due to smoke. The peat fires put the mortality on a whole new level. Claiming that the spontaneous combustion of the peat that was triggered by the sustained high temperatures over a *vast* area could be handled by firefighters with “good administration” is simply inane. Large forest fires in British Columbia and some US states in the last few years were not brought under control at the snap of a finger. Most of the time with large area fires there are simply no resources to handle them and they are let to die down on their own. But with peat fires you cannot even cut break zones to stop the fires since they are igniting everywhere at the same time and there is not much of a fire front to talk about.

    • Russian heat wave was also very long – official number for Moscow is 53 days! In a modern megapolis. For France 2003, the number is something like 15 days.

      The wave was something catastrophic, let’s keep this in mind when comparing the numbers. Given such a long heat wave duration, excess mortality is not extraordinary, compared to similar events elsewhere.

      • Additionally, the temperature anomalies were also much greater than the ones in Western Europe during 2003. Russia is mostly forest, and practically defined by that topography, so controlling them completely is impossible. Australia had a deadlier year in 2009 with just wildfires – 173 dead.

  6. “The TFR for ethnic Hungarians in Hungary is less than 1. They have also experienced a big drop in life span, though not as severe as Russia. Similar things are happening in Romania. Bulgaria has such a huge outward migration that it is one of the most rapidly depopulating countries in the world. Estonia has the second highest HIV rate in Europe. It is not just Latvia, Ukraine, and Russia. It is all of Eastern Europe that is suffering under the neoliberals.”

    And yet EE in general continues to lambast both Russia and the Soviet Union. They are useful idiots for London and Washington; their political elites handpicked neoliberal Russophobes.

    • Yeah, because other than “neoliberalism”, there’s absolutely no reason for Eastern Europeans to dislike or distrust the Soviet Union or Russia.

      — I look at, say, President Bronislaw Komorowski of Poland and I have trouble seeing a “handpicked neoliberal Russophobe”. YMMV.

      Doug M.

  7. Eastern Europe may take an anti-US slant if their pro-West politicians continue to act against the interests of their own people.

  8. One interesting difference between Russia and, say, Germany is that Russian women pretty much refuse to have kids after age 33 or so.

    Reducing the high death rate among middle-aged men might induce more women to have children after 33. A woman of, say, 35 might very well figure that if she has a baby there’s a significant chance that she’ll be raising a teenager alone, especially if, as is often the case, her husband is a few years older than her. Knowing that her husband is likely to be around until the child is well into adulthood makes a difference.

    • This is disproved by historical experience.

      In the mid-1970’s to mid-1980’s, death rates for middle-aged Russian men were barely better than today, but that did not stop it from maintaining a TFR of 1.9-2.1.

  9. sinotibetan says

    My position regarding Russian demographics is somewhat less optimistic than Anatoly’s but certainly less pessimistic than Doug’s. I don’t think that Russia’s population ‘will collapse’ in the near future but that depends on a continuance of political and economic stability. If one assumes status quo(politically at least), I believe the TFR might rebound to about 1.6-1.8 as quoted by many. Doubtful if the TFR can reach replacement TFR of 2.1 but that should be the Russian government’s target. I agree with a few here, immigration is not the best way to maintain population in the long term. I’ve never agreed with multiculturalism – it is an unworkable and self-destructive(or rather country-destructive) policy. Even in Germany and the UK – some politicians are mimicking conservatives by voicing their ‘reservations’ regarding multiculturalism. Angela Merckel claimed multiculturalism failed in Germany. All these in response to Muslims who by and large do not wish to integrate(as some of them wished to subjugate or displace the host population, perhaps?). I am no demographer but…
    However, regarding Doug’s points:-
    1. As for the ‘tempo effect’ and of Russian ladies preferring to have children only from 18-30 unlike German ladies : perhaps Doug should tell us where he got this data? Statistical analyses should be made to see if these differences between German and Russian reproductive behaviour(should this actually be true) actually lead to significant differences in rate of population decline taking into consideration whether Russia’s pronatalist policies might change Russian reproductive behaviour.
    2. I think Doug’s over-pessimism on Russia’s demographics is not justified – at least based on the opinions of some in PRB(population Refernce Bureau):-
    Max Planck’s Institute of Demographic Research mentioned about the ‘tempo effect’ in Russia and dispelled the notion of ‘demographic crisis’ in Russia and Eastern Europe as part of demographic transition. Also, Russians now have a second or third child later(postponement of childbirth) and somewhat contradicts Doug’s statement that Russians only have children from 18-30 and significantly less past 33.
    3.”Crash: Russia’s net birth rate dropped by around a third between 1990 and 1995. So come 2020, Russia’s going to have a lot fewer women in those reproductive cohorts. A TFR of 1.6 means they’ll have even fewer daughters to replace themselves.”
    It won’t be a ‘crash’. It will be a steeper population decline during that period which will be compensated by improved numbers of women within the reproductive agre-group after that. I suspect there might be population decline ‘patterns’ which echo the declines 2-3 decades ago – as to whether these become accentuated or mere echos depend on whether Russia can improve its overall TFR.
    4. Agree with Doug about Russia not being able to take too many migrants(partly because many are Muslims from Central Asia) to a certain degree. I think the main problem are Muslim migrants of the North Caucasus rather than those from Central Asian states. And not all Muslims in Central Asia have similar adherence to traditonal forms of Islam – those less adherent are at the very least better tolerated or have easier ‘blending’ into the Russian population. I don’t expect much problem from ‘less adherent’ Kazakh and Kyrgyz migrants. Tajiks and sedentary Turks like Uzbeks maybe harder – with their ‘Middle Eastern’ phenotypes and perhaps closer connection with Muslim radicals further south. Increasing migrants is not the way for Russia’s demographic recovery – pronatalism and increasing TFR plus improving healthcare is the way.
    6. Eastern Europeans, in most of its history, have always been the ‘political playthings’ of Western Europeans especially the Austro-Hungarian Empire(and thus other Germanic kingdoms/dukedoms etc.) vying with the Ottomans in the Balkans and, at one time, Poland-Lithuania. Warsaw Pact was , in my view, a ‘historical aberrancy’. That Eastern European politicians have ‘kowtowed’ to their ‘Western masters'(the new extended West being taken over by the USA) currently is no surprise. Despite the nationalisms of the 19th Century, Eastern Europeans have failed to truly be independent and chart their own destinies but remain vassals to the West. Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians(I mean their politicians) probably do ‘fear’ and ‘distrust’ Russia due to history of Soviet Annexation. Polish politicians probably ‘distrust’ both Germans and Russians. All are in EU and other Western clubs because of the economic carrots dangled by those EU federalists in Brussels plus it does sounds prestigious to be ‘part of the West’. I think that(economic carrots and prestige) has more weight than any ‘fear’ of Russia.


  10. sinotibetan says

    wow….sorry I couldn’t count!(And I was commenting on demography!). Point # 5 regarding the Eastern Europeans. 😉 I’m blaming it on all the complex comments here….


  11. Just to update:

    The census puts the population total at 142,905,200.

    CIA World Factbook is dramatically different at 138,739,892 (not even a nice round number!) Interestingly they listed everyone of Muslim decent (as if there was such a thing), which means they are all completely observant, probable Wahabists. Russian Orthodox are only 15-20% (ironically the Russian Empire used to count everyone who was a Christian as Russian, so that is only 15-20% Russian).

    Interestingly, Russia is also grouped in Central Asia. 😎 The name should be Russiastan!