Thursday, November 9, 2017

Three Negative Demographic Trends for Ethnic Russians

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 8 – This week, while some in Russia are marking the centenary of the Bolshevik revolution, others are worried about three demographic developments that threaten to further undermine the size both absolute and relative of the ethnic Russian ethnos within the Russian Federation.

            First, and in what has become almost a regular event, Rosstat said the number of children born in Russia fell 11.5 percent during the first nine months of 2017. Most of that decline reflects the decline in the number of women in prime child-bearing age groups, but some is the result of changed family size preferences (

                As has become customary, the Russian statistical agency did not provide data on variations among ethnic groups, but it did say that there were only two federal subjects – Chukotka and Chechnya – where the birthrate had gone up, an indication that the loss came from others and primarily from the Russian majority.

            Although birthrates have declined in recent years among almost all groups, the product of the economic crisis and changes in family size preferences, they have hit the ethnic Russians far harder than they have traditionally Muslim groups, thus driving down the size of the former relative to the latter.

            Second, the gender imbalance between men and women is now forcing ever more Russian women to seek out and marry foreigners, including Chinese, Tajiks, and Azerbaijanis, both for first marriages and even more often for second marriages when high death rates among working-age Russian men push their number down further (

                There are slightly more males born than females, but the males die more rapidly than the females and so their numbers in most countries are equalized by the age of 30 to 35. But there are exceptions: Russians long suffered a shortage of males as a result of World War II, and China suffers a shortage of females because parents use abortions to select the gender of their children.

            The impact of the war is attenuating as that generation passes from the scene, and Russians are far less likely to use abortion for gender selection than are the Chinese and some others.  But super-high male mortality among working age Russian men means that there are vastly more women than men in age cohorts from the 30s to the 50s in that country.

            In Moscow alone, there are currently 1.2 million more women than men, and in the country as a whole, 10 million. (Some of this imbalance reflects the continuing impact of differences at birth and the war.)  Russian women who want to marry thus often turn to immigrants because among them, there are more males than females.

            Darya Khalturina, a sociologist at the Higher School of Economics who studies this issue, says that “many single Russian women are now seeking foreign men via the Internet. And at 40 or 50, they are finding them.  There are countries where there are too many men – not only in China but in Azerbaijan and Armenia.”

            And third, in the face of a rising tide of Russian emigration, many of those leaving and Russian scholars who study this trend say that “these people do not have any reason to return to Russia” and thus are unlikely despite Moscow’s blandishments to come back at any point in massive numbers (

                Moreover, the number of Russian emigres are likely to swell in coming years.  Vyacheslav Postavnin, head of the Migration of the 21st Century Foundation and a former deputy head of the Federal Migration Service, says that as many as 15 million will leave Russia in the coming years, most of them the young, better educated, and thus more mobile.

            The Russian government is currently trying to stem this tide, but it is having relatively little success. As Moscow sociologist Vyacheslav Smirnov points out, educated and creative people will flow to where there is more money unless they are prevented from doing so or are offered the chance to participate in large projects of one kind or another.

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