Russia’s demographic troubles are often talked of but they are exaggerated. They are dire, but not much worse than the rest of Europe’s.
Like every other European country the birth rate is below replacement level, standing at 1.64 as of 2014. Yet the European Union average is 1.55. Germany’s is 1.43, Poland’s 1.33, and Italy’s 1.42. Yet there are both fewer and less sensationalist articles proclaiming the coming demographic meltdown for these countries.
However, it does remain true that despite a fairly average birth rate by European standards (although it should be pointed out that 2014 may have been a slightly bumper year for Russian babies), Russia’s population is expected to decline from 142 million in 2014 to only 107 million by 2050. Other European countries are expected to experience more of a plateau, or gentle decline.
Immigration might play a difference here, although Russia does experience around 300,000 plus immigrants annually. Similarly, perhaps emigration is likely a factor.
But I think Russia’s demography is so unusually the subject of disaster articles is because of the startling statistic that the life-expectancy for Russian men is just over 60. Women are more in line with European averages, living on average until their mid-seventies. And yet it is this dire statistic that actually means Russia’s demography is not as bad as is commonly stated.
From my own year spent living in Moscow I can tell you, it was almost comment-worthy whenever one of us saw a Russian couple in retirement together; virtually every old woman was either alone or in groups of other old women.
This was clearly a tragic situation; the men lost their lives at a young age through drink, smoking, or generally dangerous life styles and the women were forced to spend their old age alone. Yet this tragic statistic likely does not negatively influence the actual numbers of children born by very much; generally few men after 50 have children.
Russia will experience a steep drop in population soon because the male component of the relatively large baby-boom cohort are dying twenty years earlier than most of the rest of Europe. Everybody must die sooner or later and perhaps what is occurring in Russia now will simply be a taste of things to come for greying Europe.
Russia’s demography is terrible, but Europe’s is not much better. It is the differences in how long old people live for which will account for the short-term divergences in population decline, yet ultimately, as Keynes said, “in the long run we are all dead”.