Russia population shrinks to 143 million
Friday, October 21, 2005

MOSCOW -- Russia's population has shrunk by more than half a million people this year, dipping to 143 million, the federal statistics agency said Friday.

Russia's population - the largest in Europe - has been declining steadily since the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, with increased poverty, alcoholism, emigration and degradation of the health care system blamed for reducing birth rates and life expectancy.

Since the beginning of the year, the population went down by 506,400, the agency said on its Web site.

United Nations experts have urged Russian authorities to boost social spending to improve health care and prevent the population decline.

In a United Nations Development Program report released this week, demographers predicted that Russia's population will fall to 100 million by 2050, and could even drop to 80 million.

The UN urged Russian authorities to change its strict immigration policy to provide incentives for educated, skilled migrants from former Soviet republics and other countries to move to Russia.

Russian villages empty as population collapses
Wed Oct 19, 2005 8:14 AM ET
By Oliver Bullough
Reuters 2005.

POLUKARPOVO, Russia (Reuters) - On Moscow's crowded streets you would never sense Russia had a population crisis. But go to Polukarpovo -- or thousands of villages like it -- and the emptiness hits you.

As the mobile shop made its twice-weekly visit, the village's inhabitants gathered -- three pensioners, a young woman and two boys -- on a dirt track lined with boarded-up log cabins.

The faint calls of a giant V of geese flying south high overhead and the rustle of falling leaves barely disturbed the silence.

"There used to be a family in every house, probably 30 families. Now there's just us. No one helps us. No one pays attention to us any more," said Vera Malchanova, 58, wrapped up against the autumn chill as she came to buy bread.

Villages such as Polukarpovo, which is halfway between Moscow and St Petersburg, line Russia's country roads -- mute and rotting witnesses to a population collapse that is eating out the heart of the world's biggest country.

In particular, a rising death rate among adult males is hitting both the pool of army conscripts and the size of the workforce, forcing a revision of military and economic planning in decades to come.

A climbing mortality rate will see Russia's population fall by some 790,000 -- the number of people in Cyprus or South Dakota -- out of 143 million total over the next year.


Many Western nations are seeing declining populations as well, but the Russian population is falling much faster. It is driven above all by a high death rate, rather than fewer births or emigration, said Anatoly Vishnevsky, head of Russia's Center of Demography and Human Ecology.

His institute, based in a tower block in southern Moscow, has a Web site that keeps a running total of Russia's population. Refresh www.demoscope.ru every few minutes and you can watch the population fall in real time.

"One of the main reasons is the high mortality of adult men," he told Reuters. "Child mortality is higher than in the West but the trend is positive. But adult mortality is rising. And in recent times the level of female mortality has started rising faster than for men."

"If you look at how long a 30-year-old man can be expected to live, there is basically no change since the beginning of the 20th century."

Russian consumption of vodka is legendary and alcohol poisoning killed 39,000 Russians last year. Additionally, it is seen as a key cause of the 39,000 deaths in traffic accidents, the 36,000 murders and the 46,000 suicides.

"You have to ask why people drink so much. Here there are cultural and historical roots, but in general it comes from the unfortunate social situation," said Vishnevsky.

"A major difference (between Russia and the West) is death from external causes -- murder, accidents, and so on. These are healthy people, but often they are drunk and they are not showing care for their own life."

Some officials have suggested payments to young mothers and tighter control on alcohol sales as measures to halt the crisis, but analysts say their response will necessarily be limited by ordinary Russians' opposition to living healthily.

"Above all, of course, we need to think of ensuring social and economic stability in the country," said President Vladimir Putin in an address to the nation last month, in which he stressed the need to reduce deaths among working-age adults.

"Drunkenness, drugs, deaths at work, traffic accidents, a health system not being organized the way it should be ... all of this together creates our problems."


The population collapse must drastically alter military and economic planning, since the rise in deaths has gone together with a fall in births as experienced in the rest of Europe.

The number of Russian men of conscription age will fall by nearly 40 percent to 1.4 million in 20 years.

Forecasters predict Russia's lengthy borders will have fewer than a million young men to defend them by 2050 -- less than half those eligible for conscription now.

The work force will peak in the next few years and then drop by 20 million from the present 85 million by the middle of the century.

Vishnevsky said there was little the government could do about it because of the lack of pressure for healthy living, citing the case of former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, whose attempt to ban alcohol was a major cause of his unpopularity.

"Fighting against drinking and smoking is not happening here as it is in the West. No politician will do this because the people will not support such a campaign," he said.

And in Polukarpovo, the villagers doubted their demoralized and impoverished neighbors had the resources to drag themselves up from the general depression on their own.

"When the men do not work, they begin to drink. And when they drink, they can't work," said Boris Andreyev, 60, as he gloomily watched a kitten playing in the dust of the road.

"That is our younger generation. There it is see, playing with that leaf," he said with a sad smile, before tucking his loaf of bread under his arm and returning to his nine sheep.