Health

Russia on the edge of demographic catastrophe

Russia is on the way to slow extinction. Demographers calculated that by the end of 2075, Russian population will decrease threefold, and on the huge 1/6 of the Earth's soil but some 50-55mln people will remain. Situation in one particular region, Murmansk is catastrophical today already.
In Soviet times the demographical statistics were "Top Secret" strategic information. Only in the end of the 50ies it was released into some documents "For Internal Use Only". That is because data such as average length of life, infant birth and death rate, abortion rate, marriage and divorce numbers reflects the true situation in a country. Based on such statistics, experienced specialists can give a long-term prognosis of political, socio-economical and military development for 50-100 years to come.

Demographical statistics of the modern Russian promises very dark future. Scientists claim that the "demographical winter", which has frozen the country from the mid 90ies, has been spreading from Russia's north. Murmansk region is one of the most depressing.

Country of old people
Scientific forecasts promise us that the Earth's population will double by the end of the XXI century. They try to predict consequences of the possible demographic catastrophe. A great rise in population may result in water, food and space shortages. Only a few small European countries are not a part of this worldwide demographical blow. Plus Russia.

While the world is in the season of "demographical spring", Russia is stuck in an endless "demographic winter", as the crisis was labeled by scientists. Demographers calculated that by the end of 2075, Russian population will decrease threefold, and on the huge 1/6 of the Earth's soil but some 50-55mln people will remain.

Rate of population decrease in Russia has no precedent for peaceful time. From 1992 the population has been constantly decreasing, and by 2000 it was 3mln less than in 1992. Only in 11 regions the rate is close to zero (thus, about the same number of people are being born and die), among them Ingushetia, Dagestan and Chechen Republic (despite of the wars and rivers of refugees). The rest of Russia is in "demographic coma": in 27 regions number of deaths was 3 times that of births in 2000, in 2001 there were 43 regions like that, and 65 of them in a year 2002. This relationship between birth and death rates lead to the quick ageing of the nation. Scientists speak about "Russia the decrepit". The only way to avoid such a status is a rise in the birth rate.

Simple formulae
Even kids in schools know that to avoid extinction, a population should reproduce itself according to the formula 2=3. This means that two parents should have 3 children: two as a change for themselves, and the third to "compensate" for accidents, diseases and childless couples.
Countries like Russia, where reproduction of population looks like 2=2 or 2=1 (or even 2=0 in some regions) are endangered by depopulation (extinction). This is why scholars are serious when they claim that Russia should expect a huge expansion from China and other overpopulated South-East Asia countries as a salvation.

Murmansk catastrophe
In Murmansk region population reproduction levels are below the average for Russia. In 1989 every woman in Murmansk gave birth to approximately 1.8 babies, and in 1997 this statistics fell to 1.1. Now the reproduction formula is 2=0 or 2=1.5 at best. This simply means that most families in the region have one kid, or the parents give up such a luxury at all. Specialists think that if the situation will remain such for another 60-80 years, then Kolskiy peninsula will be blank. Chinese will not cross the polar circle soon, so it means that seals should change humans there.

In the last year, however, there was noticed a certain stabilization of the demographic situation in the region. Specialists who claim this, support themselves with the birth numbers. In the last two years there was a small growth: 8289 kids in 2001 against 8778 in 2002. But in Kolskiy peninsula growth was minimal, what does not support claims about stabilization. Birth numbers can not be compared to the number of deaths yet. Growth in the birth number can be explained simply by the fact that there are ten times more females in Murmansk than males.

Divorce phenomenon
The main reason behind low birth rate in Murmansk region is a socio-economical instability. Every third family is officially behind the poverty line. At the same time food, clothes and housing expenses are one of the dearest in Russia.

Other important reasons are urbanization level, divorce dynamics, high abortion rate, growing number of drug addicts and spreading of AIDS.

Murmanks region is the most urbanized in Russia: 91% of the population dwells in cities. Scientists proved that urban families have fewer children than families in towns and countryside. But it is not only hectic city life and the bad ecology that influence birth rate negatively.

Murmansk also is amongst regions with the highest abortion numbers: 9524 women in 2001, and 9824 in 2002. To compare with the world, while in Murmansk 60 females in 1000 of those who can have children use abortion, only 5 do so in Germany, 7 in Austria and 13 in France.

Research found out the majority of women who used abortion did not want to have a baby because they did not have a family. An unlucky marriage ended up in divorce is very typical for modern Russia. In Murmansk region number of divorces is nearly equal to the number of marriages registered, which has been called "a divorce phenomenon". For every 1000 of population of the region in 2001 there was 7.5 marriages and 7 divorces, in 2002 7.4 marriages and 7.3 divorces.

There were 1,293,000 people in the region in 2001. It has fallen to 893,300 in 2002. Annual rate of population decrease is now three times above 1989 level.

Natalia Cherviakova

[painting by Vasily Vereshchagin]

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