One could hardly meet women with newly-borns in Moscow in the 1990s. But today women with small children can be increasingly seen in the streets. Experts say that a baby boom has begun in Russia. New shops for newly-borns are opening. According to head of the Moscow Health Department Andrei Seltsovsky, last year 87,600 babies were born in the Russian capital, or 8% more than in 2002.
Since 1999 the birth rate has been on the rise in Russia. Experts attribute this growth to economic recovery and the increase of real incomes of the population. According to data of the State Statistics Committee, last year the birth rate increased by 6.1% on 2002 to 1,359,800 babies, or 76,700 more than in the previous year.
Today there are 10.4 newly-borns per thousand of the population.
Middle-aged rather than young women living in Moscow account for the largest number of births. "This is the realization of the first and second births postponed in the economically difficult 1990s," head of the laboratory for reproduction analysis and forecasting with the Center of Demography and Human Ecology of the Russian Academy of Sciences Sergei Zakharov says. Last year women above 30 years of age accounted for 45% of births. "Today female Muscovites venture to give birth at the age of 40, 45 and even 50," chief gynecologist-obstetrician of the Moscow Health Department Mark Kurtser says. In the 1990s, when alternative medicine prospered in Russia, it was popular among women to give birth at home and in the water. Now, according to Mark Kurtser, Russian women insist "on the continuity of traditional in-patient and out-patient clinics, individual approaches, anaesthesia during birth-giving, comfort and the availability of the intensive care baby therapy."
Today I have reached a certain level of prosperity and can give my child everything he needs," says 29-year old Moscow female journalist Olga Sokolova who gave birth to her first baby two months ago. This example is illustrative: a fashion for late "planned babies" is spreading in Russian megalopolises.
During the Soviet period, young people used to begin their labour and family life simultaneously, at the age of just over 20. Now young people start a family much later. "At the dawn of the 1990s, a crisis of the family as an institution broke out in Russia; the number of unregistered marriages is on the rise; women first try to make a career, reach financial stability and only then give birth to children," renowned demography expert Yevgeny Andreyev says.
To stimulate birth rate growth, it is necessary "to raise the prestige of families with many children and stipulate various benefits for families with children," head of the chair of the family sociology at the sociology department of Moscow State University Anatoly Antonov says. His opinion is shared by deputy chairman of the State Duma committee for public associations and religious organizations Alexander Chuyev: "We shall ask the new government to raise child allowances, grant housing credits to young families, increase benefits for families with many children and promote family values." Representatives of public organizations, the church, scientists and doctors proposed at a recent round table discussion in the State Duma entitled 'Demography and the Protection of the Woman's Reproductive Health' to create a Council for Demographic Policy under the President of Russia.
Some Central, Volga Area and Siberian regions are trying to stimulate births by economic methods. In addition to federal one-time allowances for newly-borns (4,500 rubles at the place of work, 2,000 rubles at the place of residence plus a 500-ruble monthly child care allowance; 1 US dollar equals 28.5 rubles), they pay bonuses to young families for heirs. In Moscow parents under 30 get an extra payment for the first baby in the amount of 16,000 rubles. The payment for the third baby equals 32,000 rubles.
"In St. Petersburg a family where a baby is born gets 8,000 rubles as a one-off payment and 1,500 rubles monthly for baby food and baby attendance articles," head of the city's health committee department for medical and preventive treatment assistance to mothers and children Anatoly Simakhodsky says. As a result, such a family gets 26,000 rubles per year. Money is first remitted to the personal credit card. Then parents can go to any of the 54 Healthy Baby shops to purchase what their newly-born needs." As in Moscow, St. Petersburg authorities help young parents find jobs.
Some regions, for example, Bashkiria and Udmurtia, issue loans to young families for the purchase of housing with the possibility of loan amortization in the event more babies are born, stipulate tax privileges and benefits for the payment of housing and utilities services.
"As a result of these measures, the birth rate exceeds the number of deaths in 22 regions of the country now," first deputy health and social development minister Galina Karelova says.