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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Russia's Incredible Shrinking Population

Last week we talked about the disparity of world populations, noting that some developing countries have exploding birthrates while postindustrial countries such as Japan have a "birth dearth." Now, demographers have become alarmed at the dramatic population decline in post-communist Russia. In 2004, the Russian population had fallen by 5 million people (or about 3%) from 1992, the first year after the Soviet Union was dissolved. This downward trend is expected to continue, with population declines estimated to be from 560,000 to 840,000 per year.

The demographic rule of thumb is that a population must maintain a birthrate of 2.1 births per woman in order to maintain itself. However, Russia's population decline is so severe that it would need a birthrate of 2.33 births per woman to stabilize.

The suspected causes for Russia's population decline are many. The country's uncertain economic climate is surely discouraging many from marrying and starting families. However, studies have found that as many as 30% of Russian males are infertile, the result of untreated sexually-transmitted diseases. The prevalence of abortion as a form of birth control in Russia has left many women sterile as well. Rampant alcoholism, suicide, homicide and degenerative diseases -- combined with a broken healthcare system -- also play a role in Russia's shrinking population.

UPDATE: WorldChanging reports that Russia has one of the world's highest rates of new HIV/AIDS infections. There are 300,000 registered cases of infection in Russia, though the actual number might be as high as 1.5 million.

This trend may be a temporary response to a weak economy. But more likely, it's the end result of an historically dysfunctional society, with no easy solution. At the very least, an imploding population cannot maintain the level of productivity needed for Russia to reassert itself as a world leader, let alone a superpower. At worst, it could lead to just as much instability as would an exploding youth population.

Source: FuturePundit