Streetwise Professor

May 21, 2006

Russian demography, cont.

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 12:14 am

A good article from The Christian Science Monitor on Russian demography that echoes the points made in some previous posts. The key point: “[c]ritics point to the high male death rate, a problem Putin barely addressed. Men’s ranks have been decimated by alcoholism, war in Chechnya, AIDS, and accidents. ‘Male life expectancy is less than 60 years,’ says &Yevgeny Gontmakher, research head of the Center of Social Studues, an independent Moscow think tank. ‘Trying ot stimulate the birthrate is pure populism; it’s naive to think a demographic revolution can happen.” Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev noted that at current trends (always a dicely assumption) in a mere 19 year there will four dependents for every Russian worker.

To reiterate my earlier contention, Russia needs to solve the male death deluge before it can alleviate the birth dearth. This is a historically unprecedented challenge, although in some way it echoes circumstances in American inner cities, where male populations are disproportionately ravaged by drug abuse, criminality, and poor education, and where many women despair of finding a marriagable man. Given the depressing lack of success that the US, a vastly wealthier country than Russia, and one that has experienced nearly 25 years of almost continual GDP and job growth, has had in addressing these problems in a relatively small portion of its population despite more than 40 years effort, one cannot be too sanguine about the prospects for curing a condition that afflicts an entire nation spanning two continents that is just emerging from a lost decade of economic catastrophy.

Russia doesn’t have 40 years to experiment. Absent a reversal of these trends, in 40 years Russia will have barely 100 million souls–as compared to its current population of 145 million–and many of them (perhaps a majority) will be aged and infirm. Is such a geographically immense state even viable with such a low population? Will a strong and energy-thirsting China attempt to wrest away Siberia, with its mineral wealth that is the primary (and arguably sole) prop of the Russian state? China and Russia are currently cozying up out of a perceived mutual interest in impeding the US, but the longstanding rivalry between the two will soon reassert itself, and Russia’s demographic weakness will only hasten the day when things come to a head. Given that both nations possess nuclear arsenals, this is a chilling prospect.

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