Russian President Vladimir Putin approved the concept of Russia’s demographic policy up to 2025, the Kremlin press service said last Thursday. It is about time the government took steps to tackle the demographic crisis in this country. The previous 15-year plan designed to solve the crisis was adopted in 2000. It has failed to reverse the situation so far: Russia still loses about 700,000 people every year. Although the birth rates have increased by 9 percent, there is still the excess of deaths over births.
The latest plan comprises 3 stages to be implemented through 2025.
Stage 1: 2007-2010: to lower the national mortality rates; providing incentives e.g. monthly maternity allowances and housing to young families.
Stage 2: 2011-2015: to change the “population’s childbearing patterns” by creating “conditions for families that raise children.”
Stage 3: 2016-2025: to bring the population to 145 million and increase the average life span.
Within the next three months the government should use the concept for drawing up a detailed plan for the years 2008-2010. Meanwhile, we took a shot at coming up with some kind of a plan by speaking with two of Russia’s well-known demographers.
“Depopulation is the main threat facing the country,” said Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Institute of Demography under the Moscow-based Higher School of Economics. “It’s true that men’s average life span has recently increased to slightly more than 60 years. But the level is far too low in terms of the world standards. We should do something to lower the current death rates! First off, we should address the vodka problem. Incidentally, there was a steep decline in death rates and an increase in birth rates following the campaign against drunkenness launched in the Gorbachev era. However, it was obvious that the effects wouldn’t last long…” Vishnevsky added.
In other words, hard-drinking males are to blame for Russia’s depopulation?
Vishnevsky: A decision to bear children is taken by parents. It may as well be a matter of economics – a woman is unlikely to bear a child if her non-drinking husband is paid peanuts. Besides, a modern urban family’s life style does not particularly encourage spouses to have many children. Young spouses want to make money and have fun. They don’t want to spend their time changing diapers etc. In addition, we should keep in mind that lots of Russian women want to make a career prior to forming a family.
What about the so-called maternity incentives that were introduced in 2007? The government pays out about $9,500 for the birth of two or more children. Don’t you think it could work as a good birth incentive scheme?
Vishnevsky: That’s correct. There have been a larger number of children born in the last several years. But that’s not enough. The policies shouldn’t aim at giving women the money so that they can stay at home. On the contrary, conditions should be put in place to allow women to work and take care of their children without strain!
In the meantime, there is a lack of kindergartens in this country. The government should finally allocate some finds for building new kindergartens.
Besides, I’ve never heard a government official speaking about funding demography. Just a few people are involved in demographic studies in Russia. But nobody seems to be taking notice of our viewpoints.
I can’t understand how on earth the government is going to stabilize the number of the population at 140 million people by 2025 (now there are about 142 million people in Russia). Here is a bit of sheer arithmetic. There are approximately 1.5 million babies born every year in Russia. We’re likely to witness a decrease in birth rates in the future because of a sharp decline in the number of young women of childbearing age – fewer women were born in the 1990s. Let’s assume that 15 million Russians will be born within the next ten years. In the meantime, today’s Russia has 25 million people whose age is above 60, including 12 million aged 70 and above. Those people will be gone sooner or later.
Some people say immigration could be a solution…
Vishnevsky: We have no expertise when to it comes to either accepting them or integrating them.
“What’s all that stir? We can pass a law to let the Chinese in. Managed thus, we can increase Russia’s population by two million each year!” said Igor Beloborodov, director of the Institute for Demographic Studies. His remark is laced with sarcasm. “On the level, the option may as well be the end of Russia. The new concept has a line on encouraging migration. There are plans for the return of 50 thousand ethnic Russians to the Russian Federation this year. Another 100 thousands should be returning to Russia in 2008, and 150 thousands of ethnic Russians to return in 2009… But it’s too little! On the other hand, it will be suicide for the Russian nation if the government is planning to increase the population by opening the doors for migrants of non-Russian ethnicity.
What is to be done?
Beloborodov: There’re two very important points of the government-endorsed concept I’d like to stress. The first one relates to spirituality and moral standards being the integral part of the demographic policy. Second, strengthening family values is a must. I’d recommend the government re-orientate its information policy toward the family. I’m taking about TV ads too. We conducted a study of 1,062 TV ads that used a family theme. More than 50 percent of the ads featured a single-parent family while the rest were built around a single-child family. Can’t we realize that people tend to subconsciously copy the images they see on TV?
We should pay special attention to our traditions. Compared with the maternity incentives, I do believe that the basics of the Russian Orthodox Church culture taught in school can do a lot more for increasing the birth rates. No doubt about it, the number of abortions is far too high. Measures can be taken in order to keep the number within reason. In many countries, it’s against the law for a woman to have her first pregnancy terminated. A doctor in the West has the right to refuse to perform an abortion. In Russia, doctors sometimes deliver babies and terminate pregnancies in the same ward of a hospital. We could increase the birth rates by reducing the current number of abortions to half.
By the bye, there are good proposals regarding the introduction of the so-called family pay. It’s simply unfair when the father of one child makes as much as the father of five. The above are some of the measures that should be taken to change the situation; otherwise Russia may have 118 million people left by 2025. In other words, the existence of the country will be put at risk.
Translated by Guerman Grachev