Three Hypotheses About Demographic Reporting In Nezavisimaya Gazeta

Russia’s demographic revival stalled in 2010, after several years of fast improvements. In January-September, though the birth rate increased by 16,700 souls on the same period last year, it was counterbalanced by an increase in deaths by 37,200 – all of them and more courtesy of the 44,000 excess deaths caused by the Great Russian Heatwave of 2010. A big drop in migration during this period, from 191,500 to 123,100, means that Russia’s population is likely to gently decline this year (in contrast to 2009, when it rose slightly for the first time in 15 years). Nonetheless, the liberal Russian media are as good as ever at spinning these modest developments into harbingers of the apocalypse, as the indefatigable S/O guest blogger Sergey Slobodyan points out.

Three Hypotheses About Demographic Reporting In Nezavisimaya Gazeta

I continue tracking demographic reporting in Nezavisimaya Gazeta (NG). Why NG? I used to like it, many years ago. It still produces serious, thoughtful articles from time to time. In short, it’s a paper I’d like to read – if it were reliable. Regretfully, its reporting on some issues – like demography – is just a total disaster.

Last example: “Rosstat has poured cold water on Minzdrav’s optimism.” Here we learn that mortality in Sep 2010 was 0.3% lower than in Sep 2009, and as usual, deaths from external reasons have dropped by 4.6%. But we also learned that in Jan-Sep 2010, the mortality situation is nothing but a disaster, namely “mortality in 9 months of 2010 is higher than during the whole of 2009”.

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Russia’s Demographic Resilience IV

Russia’s demographic situation continued improving this year: according to the H1 2010 data released by Rosstat, relative to the same period last year, the number of births increased by 2.3% from 12.1‰ to 12.4‰ and deaths fell by 1.8% from 14.6‰ to 14.4‰. This means that once net migration is factored in, Russia is set to register its second consecutive year of positive population growth. This should come as no surprise to S/O readers, given that both my and Sergey Slobodyan‘s projections indicated this would be the case (but the same cannot be said of those who read Mark Steyn or Nicholas Eberstadt).

This means that Russia’s total fertility rate (TFR) is likely to rise to around 1.60 children per woman this year (2009 – 1.56, 2008 – 1.49), which is similar to Canada and Estonia. These trends can be compared with those in other E. European countries, e.g. Ukraine‘s 5% fall in births during Jan-May 2010, Belarus‘ stagnation in H1 2010 and Latvia‘s remarkable 21% decrease in births in H1 2010 relative to H1 2008 (the Baltic country’s TFR will now be around 1.15-1.20, the lowest in Europe). On the mortality side, Russia’s life expectancy will likely regain or slightly exceed its Soviet-era maximum of 70 years. Guest writer Sergey Slobodyan summarizes these developments in the light of his September 2009 forecasts and February 2010 updates.

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Russia’s Demographic Resilience III

It’s official. Russia’s population grew by 23,300 souls in 2009, for the first time since 1995. The rate of natural increase remained slightly negative for Russia as a whole, though the Siberian and Urals Federal Regions actually saw positive natural population growth for the first time in 19 years. However, this was more than compensated for by immigration. This improvement was in large part thanks to an impressive increase in the life expectancy, which rose to 69 years in 2009 – almost as high as in 1963-68 (before the alcoholism epidemic) and 1986-91 (Gorbachev’s anti-alcohol campaign). Birth rates also increased by 3%, hysterical Russophobe predictions of a crisis-induced “abortion apocalypse” to the contrary.

This of course should come as no great surprise to S/O readers, since back in mid-2008 my projections indicated that Russia will see positive population growth starting from 2010 at the latest. Furthermore, as both Sergey Slobodyan and myself argued, claims that the economic crisis would produce a sharp drop in fertility rates were entirely spurious (instead, the TFR increased to 1.53 children per woman in 2009 from 1.49 in 2008). If anything, the demographic facts on the ground are now actually substantially exceeding Rosstat’s, Slobodyan’s, and my own most optimistic forecasts (not to even mention “pessimists” like Eberstadt, Steyn, etc).

These demographic developments are examined and analyzed in greater detail in the essay by S/O guest blogger Sergey Slobodyan below.

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Russia’s “Abortion Apocalypse”: А был ли мальчик?

Remember the hysterical stories back in winter 2009 about how Russia was going to see soaring abortions that would strip away all the “transient” improvements in its fertility rate over the last few years? Remember the glee this gave to Russophobes who saw it as a vindication of their criticisms / rantings against the Russian state, e.g.  Economic Crisis Causing More Russian Women to Have Abortions by academic / CIA spook Paul Goble?

Too bad for them that this has no connection with reality. The linchpin of “the story” was extremely tenuous, to say the least – а tenfold spike in search requests for “аборт” (abortion) in Russia’s Yandex search engine in November 2008 from the previous month. However, a) there was no such spike on Google at all, and b) all the “excess” searches originated from Moscow, meaning that this was almost certainly the result of bots at work. This was picked apart by inquisitive bloggers as soon as the mainstream media picked the story up, but that did not stop it raging like a gale up until March 2009 in both Russia and the West. Finally, as these predictions of an “abortion apocalypse” do not stack up to facts on the ground for 2009, which saw continuing improvements in fertility – as Sergey Slobodyan pointed out, August was the first month in the last 15 years when births exceeded deaths in Russia, as well as regional data indicating a continuation of the secular post-Soviet trend to the reduction of abortions*.

Sergey Slobodyan exposes this media tragicomedy** in more detail in his excellent detective work – Abortion Epidemic – The Story. А был ли мальчик?

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Russia’s Demographic Resilience II

As little as a few months ago, alarmist commentators were forecasting Russia’s demographic doom. They predicted a wave of abortions that would strip down its post-2006 fertility gains, and a prolonged period of fertility postponement that would have longterm effects deep into its dark Putinist future. Meanwhile, there would be a renewed pandemic of vodka binge drinking that would further exacerbate Russia’s already lamentable mortality rates. My April prediction that “the probability that the crisis will have a significant longterm effect on Russian fertility is extremely low” and my May prediction of a “a birth rate of 11.5 / 1000 and a death rate of 14.5 / 1000 this year, changed from 12.1 / 1000 and 14.8 / 1000 in 2008” were dismissed and ridiculed by some (not by everyone though!).

To put it bluntly, they were wrong. In the first half of 2009 (H1), birth rates increased by 4.2% and death rates decreased by 4.0%, which gives a birth rate of 12.6 / 1000 and 14.0 / 1000 for the rest of the year if linearly extrapolated – better even than the “optimistic” variants of my estimates, which are themselves regarded as optimistic by the general commentariat! That is almost certainly not going to happen, because there would have been some fertility postponement during the peak of the crisis (October 2008-March 2009), which means that Q4 is going to be perhaps 5-10% lower than last year. Overall, though, it is reasonably to assume that total births in 2009 will be the same as in 2008, whereas mortality rates are going to continue on their secular decline (in particular, it is telling that deaths from alcohol poisoning fell by 17% in H2 2009 relative to the previous year!, in stark contrast to predictions of mass drunkenness by the new unemployed).

I am reproducing here a very informative essay and data compilation by Sergei Slobodyan of the Untimely Thoughts discussion group – Latest Population Trends – Jan to July, who brings us the latest on this issue.

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