The demographic future of Russia and the other Soviet successor states (2011)


By Stephan Sievert, Sergey Zakharov, Reiner Klingholz


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20 years of transformation and no end in sight


It has been about 20 years since the failed putsch of August 1991 sealed the Soviet Union’s fate. At that time, a group of conservative functionaries tried in vain to disempower president Mikhail Gorbachev and turn back the clock. It was no longer possible, however, to stop a superpower from falling apart into 15 countries of the most various sizes and levels of development.

Economic allies became competitors practically overnight when the Soviet system of regional division of labour collapsed: while the Central Asian countries had been responsible for the production of hydropower and cotton, Ukraine for the supply of numerous finished products and Moldova for food, the countries now had to stand on their own feet and seek markets for their products. The competition for capital, people and technology flared up even within the new countries. Where economic and settlement structures were once subordinated to security policy issues, they now primarily responded to market incentives. In many places, these made nonsense of established structures: numerous industrial settlements collapsed under the high costs of production, centres of the defence industry became obsolete and rural areas emptied due to emigration.

Between the new freedoms and the unfamiliar supply of consumer goods on the one hand and the reality of million-fold poverty and unemployment on the other, an enormous gap emerged. This did not only have a dire effect on psychological health: drug and alcohol abuse destroyed many people physically. Aids became a problem and tuberculosis enjoyed a renaissance. In Russia, life expectancy for men was lower at 57 years than it had been since World War II. Moreover, empty public coffers and extreme inflation rates following price deregulation tore holes in the social safety net.

Those who barely had enough to ensure their own survival could not afford to have children. Within a decade, the average number of children per woman in Russia  sank from over two to 1.2. There were similar developments in many other Soviet successor states as well as in the entire ex-Soviet sphere of influence, in East Germany and in most of the Central and Eastern European countries. Starting in the mid-1990s, women increasingly postponed childbearing in order to pursue their career goals first and thus reinforced the downward trend in fertility rates.

In regions where more people die than are born, demographic stability depends upon immigration. The population shrinks and ages especially fast in those places to which no one moves. Ageing in turn makes the social safety net expensive, while the infrastructure in rural areas becomes more and more costly for the remaining and shrinking population. The population number is not, however, the only decisive factor in regional sustainability; the socioeconomic characteristics of inhabitants are also important: in order to secure longterm prosperity and well-being, citizens’ education levels play an ever-greater role in post-industrial societies. Attaining peaceful relations in the face of ethnic and religious differences is another major challenge facing modern societies.

This study shows a world region which is slowly leaving behind the chaos of the 1990 and, in part, achieving high rates of economic growth. This often reinforces existing regional inequality, however. It also shows aregion still marked by mutual dependencies even 20 years after its fragmentation and, at the same time, slowly opening up to the restof the world. It shows a region characterized by a demographic process of shrinking in the north and strong population growth in the south; facing a dwindling labour force on the one hand and migration pressure on the other. Balancing these is often more complicated than it may appear in theory.

A cluster analysis – a classification of regions in the post-Soviet space into groups – based on demographic characteristics, makes it possible to trace the most important trends and to get a glimpse of the future. A second cluster analysis based on economic features provides orientation when trying to understand the regions’ levels of development. The results of this cluster analysis are described separately on page 11. Comprehensive information about methods and data can be found in the chapter "Indicators and Methods" on page 138.

(Source: see chapter "Indicators and Methods")

Cluster 1 - Where immigrants go


Thanks to immigration, a small group of regions managed in the past to maintain or even increase their populations despite low numbers of children. These include the capital cities of Moscow, Kiev and Minsk as well as the Baltic Sea metropolis of St. Petersburg and the Ukrainian Black Sea harbour of Sevastopol. Cities such as Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Novosibirsk are undergoing similar developments, but not the regions to which they belong, where the rural areas, villages and small towns provide fewer and fewer
job prospects for the young and educated.

In addition to these administratively independent cities, group 1 contains exclusively Russian regions: Moscow and Leningrad Oblasts, the popular Black Sea region of Krasnodar, the Republic of Tatarstan on the Volga and the small region of Belgorod on the Ukrainian border. They have become immigrant destinations due to their economic strength and regional features such as an attractive geographical location (Krasnodar) or active migration policies (Belgorod). With the exception of greater St. Petersburg, where women have extremely few children even by Russian standards, this group’s population losses by 2030 will be minimal. A few regions may even experience slight growth.

Natural resource production, often quoted as Russia’s only engine of growth, only plays a larger role in Tatarstan and Belgorod. The capital cities have instead become centres of modern services such as banking and insurance, while Krasnodar Krai owes its popularity to agriculture, trade and tourism.  With the ever-slower expansion of natural resource production, which accounts for the bulk of Russian GDP but only provides 1.5 percent of all jobs, these regions are wellequipped for the future.

Nonetheless, these alleged "winner regions" are facing enormous challenges: youngand old, natives and immigrants, rich and poor are but a few of the opposing forceswhich need to be reconciled. 18.7 percent of inhabitants are 60 or older. While it istrue that immigrants lower the average age and make sure that the labour force shrinksmore slowly here than elsewhere, migrants increasingly face opposition – sometimesviolent – from the native population. Restrictive migration policies introduced atthe beginning of the century contributed to this, forcing many immigrants into illegality. Most recently, fear of terrorism has also been feeding resentment towards immigrants, whooften hail from Muslim countries or the crisisridden Russian North Caucasus. Allayingthese fears is one of politics’ and society’s most difficult tasks in the near future. Other problems include economic inequality, which has become extreme in Moscow in particular, and limited housing in the major cities.

Cluster 2  - Where people live long

The regions in group 2 are also facinggenerally low population losses in the next two decades, if for entirely other reasonsthan the economically strong areas in group 1. In contrast to the latter, almost all of themembers of this group are losing inhabitants due to emigration. Women, however, havean average of 1.64 children in the course of their lives, which is about 0.3 more than ingroup 1. One reason for this is that group 2 includes more rural areas in which traditional lifestyles are still the norm. This is true for both regions in the North and South Caucasus as well as for the western regions of Ukraine and Belarus.

The really distinguishing feature of thisgroup is, however, the high life expectancy of 72.2 years. This can be attributed toclimatic conditions as well as the significance of religion and the ethnic make-up of thepopulation. Both in the North Caucasus as well as in the western regions of Ukraine, there are fewer Russians than the nationwide average. Avoidable alcohol-related deathsoccur less often. Low industrial density, meaning less environmental pollution, contributes to longer lives as does the low degree of urbanization, which limits problems like drug abuse and HIV. Many of the regions in group 2 are directneighbours of the EU. The three Baltic states have even been EU members since 2004.From an economic perspective, they stand out from the rest of group since they areamong the wealthiest regions of the former Soviet Union. Yet membership in the EU hasled to westward migration losses.

Despite demographic stability, the regionsin group 2 do not count among the post-Soviet hopefuls – with the exception of theBaltic states. In the North Caucasus, politicalinstability, corruption and a lack of legalsecurity block sustainable developmentas much as the population’s low level ofeducation. Only when this changes will foreign investors find their way back here,since the region will hardly manage on itsown to catch up to the rest of the country.There is no money to invest – up to 80percent of many of these regions’ budgetscome from federal subsidies – and innovationis extremely weak. This is also true forwestern Ukraine and large parts of Belarus.

Cluster 3 - Where the population is ageing and shrinking due to low fertility

There is a low fertility belt, in which the ageing of society has reached an advanced stage, extending from Kaliningrad through vast parts of Belarus and Ukraine, Central and Northwest Russia and past the Urals to the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk. As a result, in group 3 a fifth of the population is 60 or older; in the north Ukrainian region of Chernihiv, the figure is as much as 25 percent. On average, these regions will probably shrink by double-digit percentages until 2030. Containing 66 regions, group 3 is clearly the largest of all. Industrial regions of average economic strength constitute a large portion of the group. The GDP spectrum reaches from an annual 14,700 international dollars per capita in Central Russian Lipetsk Oblast to 3,800 international dollars in the Zakarpattia Oblast in Ukraine’s outermost southwest. In many places, immigration and emigration balance each other out. Only a few areas have notable migration surpluses. These include the Central Russian oblasts of Kaluga and Yaroslavl, Samara and Astrakhan Oblasts on the Volga, Russia’s western outpost of Kaliningrad, the Ukrainian Black Sea harbour of Odessa as well as the scientific centres of Novosibirsk and Tomsk.

When Russia’s leadership talks about modernizing the economy through
innovation, it has many of this group’s regions in mind. To a certain extent, they
constitute the country’s old industrial core. The crisis in the mechanical engineering sector had, in some areas, disastrous consequences. Numerous regions are trying to counter economic stagnation with increased investment in research and development. In only very few, however, has this effort resulted in an increasing number of patent applications, a common indicator of innovation strength. Among the happy exceptions are the Siberian oblasts of Novosibirsk and Tomsk, Kursk and Voronezh Oblasts, and Ulyanovsk Oblast in the Volga Federal District. By Ukrainian standards, Kharkiv and Dnipropetrovsk Oblasts have high innovation rates, but compared to Russia, they are modest.

A fundamental problem in the Russian research landscape is industry’s low demand for innovation. During the Soviet era, the state did, indeed, invest extensively in science; but a majority of the expenditures were made in the "military-industrial complex". These expenditures were significantly curtailed when the Cold War ended but a market for civil innovation did not emerge in its place. Many firms do not have money left for research because they have to invest large sums into the modernization of outdated production plants. This is why Russia’s public coffers fund about 70 percent of research and development and only about 30 percent is funded privately. In Germany, the USA and Japan, the ratio is reversed.

In recent years, the Russian state has generously invested in the construction of technology parks and special economic zones. Their success will depend on the number of enterprises which ultimately settle there, for despite lower expenditures, the private sector in Russia is much more successful than the state when it comes to patent applications and license agreements.

The construction of innovation centres cannot solve all problems at once anyway. Regional differences are too big for the Russian government to bridge the gap in wealth within a short period. Taking the advice of many experts, the Kremlin decided in the mid-2000s to direct investments primarily to regions worth subsidizing; for example, to places where a city can become an engine of growth or where tourist potential can be exploited, and to use tax revenues to support other regions.


Cluster 4  - Where people leave the peripheries

Relatively few potential engines of growth can be found in Russia’s far north and east. These regions belong to group 4, which is primarily characterized by massive outmigration. In addition to peripheral Russian regions, the northern parts of Kazakhstan and Moldova belong to this group. Next to emigration, these regions are marked by low life expectancies, slightly above-average numbers of children and, consequently, young population structures.

The group of emigration regions clearly shows that uniform settlement of the Russian territory cannot be realized under market conditions. During the Soviet era, people could be attracted to far-off regions by wage top-ups and generous holiday provisions. Since the demise of the planned economy, however, there are few reasons to move from major centres to distant areas, where temperatures remain below zero most of the year. Many factories are defunct due to enormous production costs. Chukotka Autonomous Okrug has lost more than two-thirds of its inhabitants since the last Soviet census in 1989 and Magadan Oblast has lost over half. On the island of Sakhalin as well as in the regions of Kamchatka and Murmansk, losses constitute about a third of all inhabitants. This trend will continue with losses which will most likely compare to those in group 3. In contrast to the past, these will be based primarily on mortality surpluses since many young people eager to leave have already done so.

As almost everywhere else in Russia, marked migration flows from rural to urban areas can be observed. The elderly and the socially disadvantaged remain behind in the villages, where jobs are scarce and medical care is generally inadequate.

A future beyond the exploitation of valuable resources like gold, diamonds, crude oil and natural gas seems unrealistic in many places, particularly in the far north. This is not the case in the south, on the border to China. Yet in the regions of Amur, Khabarovsk and Primorye, high transportation costs also impede the economy. Instead, economicexchange with China, Japan and Korea is growing more significant, something of which many Russians are sceptical. They are afraid that the emerging world power in the south will take over the extremely sparsely populated eastern parts of the country.


Cluster 5 - Where lots of children ensure population growth

The majority of regions in group 5 also have to fight emigration. These regions will by no means empty, however, since women have an average of 2.78 children – as many as in North Africa. This is significantly more than required for stable population development. The high numbers of children lead to an extremely young population structure and, in some places, high rates of growth, clearly distinguishing these regions from all other clusters.

The main reason for the high numbers of children is the low level of development in these regions. In much of Central Asia and in the Russian republics of Chechnya, Tuva and Altai, people generate but 1,000 to 5,000 international dollars a year. The average in the post-Soviet space is about 9.500. Social safety nets have barely been created, which is why families continue to assume the responsibility for care. Yet the children have few local job prospects, which is why young people are leaving in droves. The most popular destination is Moscow, whence they send a major portion of their wages back to the homeland in order to support their families.

Strong population development creates both opportunities and risks. In many places, the numbers of children per woman has fallen markedly in recent years, a trend which will probably continue. In proportion to the working-age population, the number of children will thus decrease while, at the same time, there are still comparatively few pensioners. The “demographic dividend” constituted by a growing working-age population once helped other countries, like the “Asian tigers”, to develop quickly. In order to make use of this dividend, however, enormous investments in jobs are required. Whether this will be possible in Central Asia or the Caucasus remains doubtful due to political tension in many places. The blessing could thus fast become a curse: if economic prospects for young people do not improve, the latter will continue to emigrate or seek their fortunes in informal sectors. The drug trade, for example, is already flourishing in Central Asia.

The oblasts of Aktobe and Atyrau in the western part of Kazakhstan, which also
belong to group 5, do not fit into the picture. Labour migrants are attracted by crude oil production as they are in Tyumen Oblast in Western Siberia, which belongs to this group as well. Kazakhstan’s economic upswing has also led to massive immigration in the independent cities of Astana and Almaty. Like the oil-producing oblast of Mangystau, they are excluded from the analysis (see chapter "Indicators and Methods"). They do, however, combine young population structures and high numbers of children, as in group 5, with extremely high rates of immigration and economic strength, which even exceed most of group 1 regions.



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