About Russia's Declining Demographics

by: Craig Pirrong

Last year, some wild-eyed optimists suggested that Russia’s 2010 census would actually show that population had increased by as much as 1 million since the last census, in 2002.

Better luck next time. The preliminary census results are in, and Russia’s population declined 2.2 million, or 1.6 percent.

Debates over demographic issues are ongoing in the comments–in posts completely unrelated to demographics, but that’s the way things go around here. I imagine that this news will spark a similarly intense debate.

I realize that eight years is a long time, and that it is possible that the population decline has slowed, bottomed out, or even turned around during the last couple of years. I’d be interested in seeing any evidence that would support that view. Have at it, folks.

Color me skeptical. Russia still has serious, serious public health problems, notably AIDS and multi-drug resistant TB. With regards to the latter, the WHO recently issued a report indicating that Russia has the third largest number of infections in the world. Consider. China has almost 10 times the population as Russia, but only about double the number of infections, meaning that Russia’s infection rate is about 5 times China’s. The ratio is only slightly better when compared to India. These problems are bad in themselves, but are symptomatic of deeper problems that have baleful implications for Russian health and the potential for population growth.

Alcohol is of course a serious problem too. But maybe there is good news. Some Russians are reducing their consumption of vodka. Unfortunately, they’re substituting whiskey. This line is priceless:

“I actually find that countries with a strong history of distillation are usually more responsive to Scotch whisky, and this is especially true of Russia,” he told The Moscow Times in e-mailed comments.

I’ll bet. I’d also bet it will be an uphill struggle, to say the least, for the country to record a population increase by the time of the next census.

And no, I won’t be persuaded by arguments that it’s worse in Latvia.

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