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.

10 Myths about Russia’s Demography

This post tries to debunk some popular, but misguided, views on demographic trends in today’s Russia. These consist of the perception that Russia is in a demographic “death spiral” that dooms it to national decline (BidenEberstadt, NIC, CIA, Stratfor, etc). Some extreme pessimists even predict that ethnic Russians – ravaged by AIDS, infertility and alcoholism – will die out as an ethnicity, displaced by Islamist hordes and Chinese settlers (Steyn, Collard).

The Myth of Russia’s Demographic Apocalypse

Think again. While it is true that Russia’s current demographic situation is nothing to write home about, most of the demographic trends that matter are highly positive – and there is compelling evidence that Russia can still return to a healthy, longterm pattern of sustainable population replacement.


MYTH: Russia is losing 750,000 of its population per year and will become depopulated within decades.

REALITY: In 1992, for the first time since the Great Patriotic War, deaths exceeded births in Russia, forming the so-called “Russian Cross”. Since then the population fell from 149mn to 142mn souls. However, the rate of depopulation has slowed massively in recent years.

As of 2008, there were 362,000 more deaths than births in Russia, down from 847,000 in 2005.  Furthermore, adding in migration would give a total population loss of just 105,000 people in 2008, equivalent to -0.07% of the population, which is a massive improvement from the 721,000 fall in 2005. The situation continued improving in 2009, despite the economic crisis, with Russia seeing positive natural increase in August and September for the first time in 15 years.

[Read more…]

America’s Liberty Cycles

This is my first follow-up post to The Belief Matrix, in which I attempted to advance a universal model for civilizational responses to subsistence crises (The Malthusian Loop) and the Western challenge (The Sisyphean Loop).  The first country I’ll apply this too is the US, because doing so will allow me to make several important points about the nature of the belief matrix – namely, that even nominally “Western nations” like the US – that archetype of the West – is imprisoned within the Sisyphean loop.

This is because the Idea of the West, as previously defined, is a rationalist absolute, whereas all other human societies are not. Hence the US can never attain full union with it, but only try to. Instead, decade by decade and century by century, it redefines liberty. This is a mostly consensual social activity that rarely veers into large-scale violence, the Civil War being the most vivid exception (though even it was an extraordinarily civilized affair by the standards of the time). This process is so internalized that Americans, along with the British or the French, think of themselves, and define themselves, as “Westerners” with no apparent conflict between it and their national identities. To the contrary, they are complementary.

[Read more…]

Book Review: Mark Steyn – America Alone

Steyn, MarkAmerica Alone: The End of the World as we Know It (2006)
Category: Islam; Eurabia; humor; Rating: 3/5
Summary: The future belongs to Islam (M. Steyn)

It crept up on the West silently. Even as post-historical white Europeans were busy puffing on their weed, hugging trees and chanting Kumbaya in a happy circle, in the dark recesses of their post-industrial civilization – from Britain’s wrecked mill towns to the gray apartment blocks of Malmö, a dark force was bedding, breeding and brooding on history’s return to the mighty continent. They were the Muslims.

*ominous drumbeat*

Slow and surely, they used the lobbying methods of gay rights and feminist organizations to spread their baneful influence to the heights of political power. Sharia enforced at the point of a gun became the law of the land in the grim banlieues of Paris and the gray apartment blocks of Londonistan. They became centers of global jihadist networks that intertwined modern technology, ancient hatreds and Western moral relativism to strike severe blows at its quailing hosts, the apathetic, limp-wristed citizenries presided over by disconnected Eurocrats who were too terrified to do anything but appease. All heroic dissenters, like Mark Steyn, who tried to warn Europe of its mortal peril, were ungratefully cut off by political correctness laws – where the Islamists did not cut off their heads for real, that is.

Some Europeans realized what was happening. Some “reverted” to the Islamofascist wave of the future, making their peace with the new world. The enterprising and quick-witted emigrated to the US of A, one of the world’s few remaining citadels of freedom and prosperity. Most accepted their fate passively – aging, deprived of their pensions through state bankruptcies, forced to pay jizya to their new masters who cut their beards, took away their beer and covered up their women. Though a few bands of neo-Nazi “patriots” tried to stem the Islamic tide, they were outnumbered and crushed in the ensuing civil wars.


The world retreated into a new Dark Age of nuclear-armed tinpot dictatorships, transnational terrorists equipped with the latest technology, a totalitarian China, a re-primitivized Russia of nuclearized anarchy fought over by the Chinese Army, brutal Muslim warlords and the dispossessed remnants of its original denizens, and a civil war-torn Europe alternating between fascist black and Islamist green. The barbarian of chaos and destruction leaves only a single, tattered Stars and Stripes fluttering on the winds of time, for now America stands alone as the last bastion of enlightenment amidst the stifling darkness that threatens to engulf it too.

[Read more…]

Rite of Spring: Russia Fertility Trends

After its long pre-modern stint as Europe’s most populated nation, France started transitioning to lower birth rates from the Napoleonic era, about a century in advance of the rest of Europe. On the eve of the First World War, its stagnant population made a stark contrast to German youth and virility. Considering the disparity in absolute numbers, 40mn French to 67mn Germans, it is not surprising that its General Staff looked with trepidation across the border and conscripted more men for longer periods than the Deutsches Reichsheer. And although France prevailed in the Great War, as was said of the Persians after Thermopylae, “any more such victories and they will be ruined”. Its morale collapsed upon invasion in 1940, leaving it to be occupied by the Nazis – thus apparently evidencing popular contemporaneous views of them as an effete race doomed to fail against Teutonic might.

Yet Germany too underwent a fertility transition after World War One, falling to replacement-level rates at around the time of the 1923 Weimar hyperinflation. For all their pro-natality efforts and anti-feminist zeal, the Nazis cardinally failed to pull Germany out of its demographic rut. The post-war baby boom crashed after 1970, and since then deaths consistently outnumbered births in Germany. Today France’s growing population of 62mn souls already has more children than Germany, whom it will overtake by around 2050, according to UN projections based on current trends. But unlike France in 1914, Germany needn’t worry too much about this. It is economically, politically and culturally intertwined with its erstwhile enemy and at least for now, the prospect of another European civil war is in the realm of fantasy.

The moral of this story? First, demography is an inherently difficult thing to predict – especially its key component, fertility, which depends on a myriad of economic, social and cultural factors whose relations to each other are still little-understood. Second, though demography is a powerful trend it is frequently superseded by social, political and technological developments. Third, and consequently, the deterministic concept that “demography is destiny”, relying as it does by necessity on the fallacy of linear extrapolation, is of very limited utility in forecasting the fates of nations.

An objective and in-depth look at Russian fertility trends shows that forecasts of Russia’s impending demographic doom, in which the Crescent replaces the Cross on its national gerb and ethnic centrifugal forces tear apart its Federation, are completely unrealistic. Though rhetorical hyperbole dismisses it as a dying nation with “European birth rates and African death rates”, the reality is that it is already fast recovering from the extended transition shock of the post-Soviet collapse. Instead, it is likely that the next few decades will see stagnant or slow population growth as Russian fertility patterns converge to that of France or Canada, with any shortfalls between births and deaths filled in by immigration; and after 2030, the world system faces a series of discontinuities that rend apart any predictive enterprise.

[Read more…]

Russia’s Fertility Future

The excellent demographic journal Demoscope has an extensive discussion of fertility trends in Russia. Some of it backs my own views in Demography I – The Russian Cross Reversed? and consequently, the assumptions behind the future demographic projections in Demography III – Faces of the Future.

The issue starts off with 2007: Fertility Year, which notes that from 1999 to 2007 the crude number of births increased by 33% from 1,214,700 to 1,610,100. Furthermore, only 37% of the increase above was due to an increase in the size of the childbearing age segment of the population (the ‘echo’ of the 1980’s baby boom) – the other 63% is due to the rise in the total fertility rate (TFR), which is independent of the population’s age structure by definition. In 2007, these two figures widened to 10% and 90%, respectively. So the common Russophobe argument that recent increases in the birth rate are only due to the current youth bulge is at best only a third valid.

Total fertility rates 1925-2006. From top to bottom - Russia; Spain; Italy; USA; Finland; France; Sweden; Japan.

Total fertility rates 1925-2006. From top to bottom – Russia; Spain; Italy; USA; Finland; France; Sweden; Japan.

After that they give us a standard discussion of comparative Russian fertility history. Although Russia was at the forefront of the demographic transition in the 1950’s and 1960’s, unlike most Western European countries its TFR remained stable and edged upwards in the wake of the new maternal benefits and social guarantees of the 1980’s, peaking at 2.23 in 1987. It collapsed in the face of the socio-economic tsunamis of the 1990’s, reaching a nadir of 1.17 in 1999, albeit there has been an incipient recovery since the new millennium. It has accelerated very recently, reaching 1.41 in 2007. (According to preliminary data, the crude birth rate increased by a further 8.1% in the first nine months of this year, so the TFR for 2008 should be at around 1.5 – far from the replacement level of 2.1, but already in the top half of the industrialized nations).

[Read more…]