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Reasons for the Decrease in Russian Population

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The latest demographic statistics about the population of Russia has raised intense discussion from demographers, media and the policy stakeholders. This is particularly because of the accelerating rates of population decline that Russia is experiencing. Although this decline has been underway since the breakup of the Soviet Union that took place almost a decade ago, the recent decline is particularly alarming. Russian population decreased by approximately 4.3 million to almost 144 million in January 2002 (Kuchins 119-121). The relative speed of natural decrease and declining immigration rates in Russia seem to have increased from 1998.

The general decline in Russian population has been caused by a myriad of factors. These include the poor health-care systems, alcoholism, poverty levels and unemployment factors in Russia. In order to understand the demographic realities of Russia, exploration of these variables is an essential undertaking. This paper thus seeks to discuss the reasons behind the continued decline of the Russian population. In so doing, this work will tend to focus majorly on the medical/health aspects in a bid to explain this alarming demographic trend. This will, however, be linked to unemployment levels, alcoholism, healthcare standards and poverty in Russia. The conclusion of this work will be on the projections on the prospects of change of this phenomenon in the future.

Deteriorating Health and Implication on Russian Population

The declining health status in Russia is in part to blame for the decrease in its population. Most demographers concede that the most genuine reason for the decline in the Russian population is the dramatic rise in mortality rates. This is more evident among the working-age men. For example, in the early 1990s, Russia registered an unusual increase in the number of deaths that mostly occurred from unnatural causes (Tulchinsky and Varavikova 497).

 Demographics for Russia are surprising as it indicates that by 1994, the mortality rates for the males in Russia aged between 15 and 64 years was about two times higher than it was in 1986. In fact, according to the World Population Council (WPC), Russia currently has the lowest life expectancy, especially for males, among the developed countries. This stands at 58 years. This presents the largest disparity in the life expectancy of 13.5 years when males are compared to females on the same variable, all factors held constant (Tulchinsky and Varavikova 497).

The health-care system of Russia is a major contribution to the declining national population as a result of high mortality rates. This is particularly so for the deaths that is caused by preventable infections and diseases. The problems with the Russian health-care system have accumulated over a long period of time. The Soviet period was characterized by reluctance to initiate incentives towards improving the medical services. The occurrence of the changes in the health-care system of Russia set in at a time when the Russian government was ill prepared to adapt and adjust its health-care system accordingly (Uhlenberg 127).

Excessive focus on ideology at the expense of development of effective goals to address the medical problems that persisted in Russia even as its health-care system became impoverished worsened the state of health-care system in the country. There was thus lack of proper investment in medical facilities and equipments that were necessary to address the medical concerns of the country. As a result, the health-care system further slumped into degradation.

The health-care system of Russia remains a key contributor to the increase in mortality rates in the country (Uhlenberg 127-128). This is because in its current status, the system is too ineffective to address the medical and healthcare needs of the population. Cost cutting occasioned by the crumbled Russian economy has greatly plunged the health-care system into a mess that is complicated to clean up. Because of poor health-care system in Russia, the health status of the Russian population is on an alarming decline rate (Uhlenberg 127). Diseases that were initially thought to be controllable or can be eliminated such as diphtheria are again on the increase threatening the life of the Russian population.

The Russian government’s initiative to save the health-care system from financial crisis and poor services has not yielded much. For example, the decision to privatize health services only fueled the crisis. Uhlenberg (128) cited that the established compulsory health insurance that is supposed to be financed through taxes has not worked because of the high poverty levels, high rates of unemployment, and the unwillingness of Russians to pay for the healthcare services since they were already used to free healthcare services. This has rendered many Russians unable to access medical and healthcare services. In the long run, diseases and illnesses that could be prevented or treated have ended up killing many.

The health conditions of the Russian rural population are deplorable and lamentable. It is very unfortunate that the annual mortality rates reported are increasing because of the poor health-care system in the countryside. Manning and Tichonova (177) reports that the rural population in Russia is more vulnerable and exposed to the risk of death because of the inaccessibility of the health facilities. The facilities that are locally available are under-equipped, under-staffed or just too expensive for the people to access healthcare. As a result, when one falls sick in the Russian countryside, the probability that such persons may die before their health issues are attended to by a medical specialist is very high.

 In their interview with the rural population, Manning and Tichonova (177-188) cited that only a third of the respondents had had a complete medical check between 1969 and 1989. This is contrary to the situation in the urban centres. The urban population is more able to access medical and healthcare services. Although the challenge of cost of healthcare still persists in the urban centers, the Russian urban population is less exposed to the risk of death resulting from poor healthcare compared to the rural population. Therefore, one who is sick in the village is at a higher health and medical risk than the urban population.

Diseases and High Mortality rates in Russia

The immediate consequence of the dilapidation of the Russian health-care system is the rise in infections and diseases. Statistics about disease infection rates in Russia are alarming and loudly voice the reasons for the declining Russian population that remains alarming. For example, approximately 15% of couples in Russia are infertile (BBC News, 2000). Another 75% of Russian women are experiencing very chronic and severe medical problems in the course of pregnancy (BBC News, 2000). These figures explain the reason for the low fertility rates in Russia.

The demographic implication of low low fertility rates and high mortality rates is generally a decline in the total population. The fertility rate of Russia in 1999 was 1.17 (BBC News, 2000), (Fertility rate is the average number of children that a woman aged 15 and 49 has). This demographic equation is sadly real and sensible in Russia. Besides, Sexually Transmitted Diseases have taken a toll in Russia. These include syphilis, gonorrhea, HIV/AIDS, Chlamydia and other sexually transmitted infections (Tulchinsky and Varavikova 500).

The rate of HIV/AIDS infection in Russia is estimated to be one of the highest across the globe. The vulnerable populations such as drug users, homosexuals, prostitutes, do not take HIV/AIDS tests because of the confidentiality concerns. As a result, the disease has spread and become the leading Russian killer disease. The problem is further compounded by the poor health-care system that is lacking in facilities and equipments. The public health facilities lack hypodermic syringes that are disposable. This results in repeated use of needles that are unsterilized. Tulchinsky and Varavikova (497-501) cited that many patients thus contract HIV/AIDS and other diseases and die of the same. This, too, contributes to high mortality and decline in the Russian population.

The implication of a high toll of infections in Russia is unfortunate. It is unfortunate in the sense that most of these infections affect the quality of the babies that are born. This is because the health of the babies is put at risk. The infections contribute towards the high infant mortality rates in Russia. The optimism for reversal of the downward demographic trend in Russia is thus gone especially because there is no hope for fertile women in future. As infection rates continue to soar, the population in Russia continues to be put at risk of further decline. Perhaps this explains the stable decline in the Russian population (Tulchinsky and Varavikova 497).

Tuberculosis is a historical problem in Russia. The rate of TB infection rose to alarming levels in the early 1990s. Fueled by poor health-care system, the former Soviet Union country has lost so many people due to TB infections. The most vulnerable populations have been the drug addicts, alcoholics, the poor and the unemployed and the inmates. Thus poor health system has promoted the spread of diseases that were initially preventable and curable. Lives have been lost and more are still at risk of dying as a result of such diseases as tuberculosis. This adds to the already soaring mortality rates and thus contributes to more decline in the Russian population.

Alcoholism and the Declining Russian Population

In considering the factors that have contributed to high mortality rates in Russia alcoholism and other drug abuse is listed. Increased alcohol consumption in Russia contributes to the high mortality rates of the working-age population (Uhlenberg 120). According to the studies conducted on labor related accidents and disasters in Russia, the prime cause of some of the accidents is alcoholism. The employees who work with machines often report to work under the influence of alcohol. This makes them vulnerable to accidents and incidents that are caused by omissions and commissions resulting from negligence and lack of concentration.

Alcohol is responsible for the high prevalence rates of HIV/AIDS and other STIs that account for a significant percentage of mortality rates in Russia. Alcohol contributes majorly to the mortality of the Russian male population. The anti-alcoholism campaign that was launched in the early 1990s contributed to improvement of the life expectancy of the Russian male population (Uhlenberg 120-121). So serious was the problem of alcoholism in Russia that the government had to intervene to secure its population from the soaring mortality rates that were majorly a consequence of alcoholism. Uhlenberg (120) observed, as many other experts equally did, that the relatively smaller increase in the life expectancy of the Russian population in 2006 was partly because of the active campaigns launched by the government that led to a reduction in the levels of alcohol consumption.

The high rates of alcoholism in Russia is to blame for the increase in cardiovascular infections that has further cut short the life of many people especially the working-age population. This further contributed to high mortality rates resulting from heart-related infections and diseases that, given the dilapidated health-care system in Russia, only worsened and sealed the fate of victims to death (Uhlenberg 120). Alcoholism has thus greatly contributed towards the demographic fiasco that Russia is grappling with.

The excessive levels of alcoholism among the male Russian population further contribute to the decline in the national population given that this phenomenon directly impedes the stability of the family. The age of the male population that is addicted to alcoholism is the working-age cohort. This implies that most households are rendered unable to meet the cost of living as women struggle with bringing up children. Child-bearing is thus avoided as women shy away from the burden of bringing up large families single-handedly. Besides, excessive alcoholism also limits the reproductive health, performance and activity of the Russian male population. These factors contribute significantly to the low fertility rate that is evident in the Russian demographics.

Unemployment and Decline in Russian Population

Unemployment is a factor that is directly connected to the realities of the demographics of any given population. This is the fact even with Russia. Thus unemployment can be used as significant variable in the study of the factors that contribute to the steady decline of the Russian population (Marshalle 64). Unemployment directly translates to poverty and lower family income. In Russia, the greatest percentage of the population that can be assumed to be actively productive lack employment. As a result, the dependency ratio is average by figure but in reality very alarming. The men who head the households who are also expected to be the breadwinners for such households are given to chronic levels of alcoholism as a defense mechanism against the harsh reality of the poverty and unemployment levels in Russia.

Unemployment rates generally relates to poverty levels or poverty index of any state. This implies that the high levels of unemployment in Russia also translates to increased poverty in Russia. The reality of this phenomenon is unfortunate but directly leads population change in Russia (Marshalle 64-65). It can be used to explain the rising levels of population decline in Russia. As households in Russia become more and more impoverished and deprived in terms of access to reliable and stable source of income, the fertility rates decline. The decline in fertility rates leads to population decline since already there is high mortality rates in Russia that is occasioned with poor health-care facilities and the surge in the spread of infectious and terminal diseases in this country. All these factors contribute to the rise of the levels of negative population change in Russia (Marshalle 64).

The statistics about the status of employment in Russia is alarming. For example, in the year 2007, approximately 4.6 million Russians were officially reported to be unemployed and lacked a stable and reliable source of income. This figure rose further to 6.4 million people in the year 2009 (Marshalle 64).  Besides, the quality of employment has also declined for those who can be considered to be productively employed and economically active. These rates are temporal because as more global economic challenges hit hard, more and more sections of the Russian population are rendered unemployed and become dependents. In such scenarios, no single household will bear the burden of having more than two children. Even those that can be said to be employed limit the number of children because of the fear of cost of raising up a large family.

Not more than 15% of university graduates have decent jobs in their areas of specialized training (Marshalle 74).  Most of these graduates and the young professionals in Russia work out of their areas of specialization because of the low income and the high levels of unemployment in Russia. These directly inhibit positive population growth from the gross national increase and other factors such as immigration. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO) young graduates in Russia keep on changing jobs from one company to another. Graduate engineers, for example, who miss decent engineering job opportunities either resort to alcoholism, other social ills or go about taking up job opportunities that hardly meet their needs. In this state of affairs, more and more prospective heads of households shy away from having large family sizes because of the cost implications of sustaining such families (Marshalle 56).

The difficulty of securing a well paying job leaves most families or households very impoverished. People aged 40 years and above are finding it really hard to secure employment opportunities in Russia. This section of the Russian population is the age cohort that can be assumed by demographers to be the actively productive members of the society who have another high number of dependents (Marshalle 64-66). This explains the reason for household poverty that faces many Russian families. This economic reality conditions many potentially reproductive populations to limit the number of children that they are willing to raise. As a result, low fertility rates in Russia are to remain relatively stable as the population experiences a decline.   

 The true picture of employment state of Russia is that there are specially trained personnel. Nevertheless, Russia faces a crisis of finding people who are ready and willing to take up the job opportunities where they work hard and get unacceptably low pays.  Marshalle (64) cited that this makes many of the married couples and individuals in conjugal relationships to embrace active and consistent use of family planning methods and contraceptives to limit the risk of conception. However, this phenomenon adds to the already low fertility rates in Russia. Unemployment and poverty therefore contributes to the relatively stable pattern of population decline in Russia.

Prospects for Change in the Russian Declining Population

The negative change in the Russian population that ushered in a rapid decline from the early 1990s has slim chances of reversal for the better. The government population policies to enhance fertility rates and alter the relatively high mortality rates have not been very effective. The health-care system in Russia remains under-funded even in the post Soviet period. This implies that the high mortality rates in the countryside and the urban centers are not about to decline. The rise in the rate of infectious infections and diseases can thus not be altered. As a result, the Russian demographic dynamics are headed for the worse.


The Russian demographic dynamics and realities are alarming especially given the high mortality and low fertility rates. In order to change the rising decline in the Russian population, the Russian government must invest in the health-care system, development effective economic stimulus structures and programs to create more job opportunities. This will alleviate the household poverty situations in the Russian population. Improved household income will improve the reproductive and demographic realities in Russia. 

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