Population Decline in Russia

Russia's Population Set to Decline From 143 Million Today to 111 Million in 2050

Russia, Saint Petersburg, Summer Garden and St. Isaacs Church
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In 2006, Russian President Vladimir Putin directed his nation's parliament to develop a plan to reduce the country's falling birthrate. In a speech to parliament on May 10, 2006, Putin called the problem of Russia's dramatically declining population, "The most acute problem of contemporary Russia." The president called on parliament to provide incentives for couples to have a second child to increase the birth rate in order to stop the country's plummeting population.

Russia's population peaked in the early 1990s (at the time of the end of the Soviet Union) with about 148 million people in the country. Today, Russia's population is approximately 144 million. In 2010, the United States Census Bureau estimated that Russia's population will decline from the 2010 estimate of 143 million to a mere 111 million by 2050, a loss of more than 30 million people and a decrease of more than 20%.

The primary causes of Russia's population decrease and loss of about 700,000 to 800,000 citizens each year are related to a high death rate, low birth rate, high rate of abortions, and a low level of immigration.

High Death Rate

According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's World Factbook, Russia has a very high death rate of 13.4 deaths per 1000 people per year. While decreased from a high of 15 in 2010, this is still far higher than the world's average death rate of just under 9. The death rate in the U.S. is 8.2 per 1000 and for the United Kingdom it's 9.4 per 1000. Alcohol-related deaths in Russia are very high and alcohol-related emergencies represent the bulk of emergency room visits in the country.

With this high death rate, Russian life expectancy is low—the World Health Organization estimates the life expectancy of Russian men at 66 years while women's life expectancy is considerably better at 77 years. This difference is primarily a result of high rates of alcoholism among males.

Low Birth Rate

Understandably, due to these high rates of alcoholism and economic hardship, women feel less than encouraged to have children in Russia.

Russia's total fertility rate is low at 1.6 births per woman; the number represents the number of children each Russian woman has during her lifetime. For comparison, the entire world's fertility rate is 2.4; the U.S.'s rate is 1.8. A replacement total fertility rate to maintain a stable population is 2.1 births per woman. Obviously, with such a low total fertility rate Russian women are contributing to a declining population.

The birth rate in the country is also quite low; the crude birth rate is 10.7 births per 1,000 people. The world average is 18.2 per 1000 and in the U.S. the rate is 12.4 per 1,000. Infant mortality in Russia is 6.7 deaths per 1,000 live births; in the U.S., the rate is 5.7 per 1,000 and worldwide, the rate is 32 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Abortion Rates

During the Soviet era, abortion was quite common and was utilized as a method of birth control. That technique remains common and quite popular today, keeping the country's birth rate exceptionally low. According to a 2017 article in Foreign Policy, Russia has a ratio of around 480 abortions per 1,000 live births, only half what it was in 1995, but still enormously higher than European countries or the U.S. (about 200 abortions per 1,000 live births).

Many Russian women use abortion as their sole course of birth control, and an estimated 930,000 women terminate a pregnancy each year. Surveys indicate that 72% of the population wants abortion to stay legal.

Immigration

Additionally, immigration into Russia is low—immigrants are primarily a trickle of ethnic Russians moving out of former republics (but now independent countries) of the Soviet Union. Brain drain and emigration from Russia to Western Europe and other parts of the world is high as native Russians seek to better their economic situation. Net migration (the difference between the number of persons entering and leaving a country during the year per 1,000 persons) in Russia is 1.7 migrants per 1,000 population; compared to 3.8 for the United States.

Putin himself explored the issues surrounding the low birth rate during his speech, asking "What has prevented a young family, a young woman, from making this decision? The answers are obvious: low incomes, a lack of normal housing, doubts about the level of medical services and quality education. At times, there are doubts about the ability to provide enough food."

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