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Russia faces demographic crisis

BMJ 1996; 313 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.313.7054.385 (Published 17 August 1996) Cite this as: BMJ 1996;313:385

Nearly twice as many deaths as births have been recorded in Russia in the first half of 1996, and the continuing trend has sparked fears of a demographic crisis.

The latest report from Moscow's state statistical committee shows that between January and July in Moscow there were 34 356 births and 66 586 deaths. Irina Shcherbakova, spokeswoman for the committee, said these figures reflect the trend right across Russia. The death rate has declined slightly, owing to a drop in the number of murders, suicides, and accidents rather than to improvements in health. But Ms Shcherbakova said: “Nothing will improve until we can reverse the alarmingly low birth rate.”

Although much of western Europe has seen a declining birth rate in recent years, statistics from the World Health Organisation show that Russia is still far behind Europe and much of the rest of the world. “Other countries have low birth rates and other countries have high death rates, but no one has both to the degree that we do,” said Alexander Gasparishvili of Moscow State University's centre for sociological research.

Analysts disagree about the reasons for the wide discrepancy between birth and death rates, but sociological research has consistently shown that post-communist instability and uncertainty about the future, as well as, to a smaller degree, economic hardship, are deterring young couples from having children.

“People are uncertain about tomorrow. The last thing they want to do is have children,” said Mr Gasparishvili. “It is a function of education combined with bad living conditions. People live badly in Somalia too but they do not stop having babies. Education seems to contribute to despair and hopelessness.”

The critical change in Moscow's demographics occurred between 1990 and 1992—around the time that the old order collapsed. In 1990 the birth rate was 10.5 per 1000 and the death rate 12.8. Two years later the gap had widened, with rates of 7.7 and 13.7, and has stayed roughly the same ever since.

At a time when the fledgling post-communist democratic Russia needs to be built, Sergei Zakharov of the Centre for Human Demography and Ecology warned that Russia faces serious consequences if the trend continues. “You are talking about a major decline in the workforce and a decline in the number of people to take care of and support the elderly population. The potential consequences are enormous.”

In the light of Russia's demographic panic the state duma (elected council) has amended the labour code to prohibit women between the ages of 15 and 49 working in heavy manual professions—for example, as builders, crane operators, and tunnel workers—which are considered harmful to their health and, most importantly, to their reproductive functions.—MIRANDA INGRAM, Moscow correspondent, European

Figure1

The birth rate in Russia lags far behind that in the rest of Europe

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