As we covered in the previous instalment, Demographics I: The Russian Cross Reversed?, fertility rates are not abnormally low by European standards and are likely to rise further in the future. The same cannot be said of mortality rates – a ‘quiet crisis‘ that has been a ‘catastrophe of historic proportions’.
Take life expectancy. As of 2007, the average age of death in Russia was 65.9 years. This is way below First World levels (United States – 78.0; EU – 78.7; Japan – 82.0) and even many developing country standards (Mexico – 75.6; China – 72.9; Egypt – 71.6; India – 68.6). Note: this figure was actually 67.7 years in 2007 (the CIA relies on its own projections to estimate demographic data), but the general point stands.
Even compared to other post-Soviet countries, Russia’s mortality stats are far from impressive – as you can see from the graphs in that link, total life expectancy, male life expectancy and death rates for both sexes all hovered near the worst levels. Nor is so-called healthy life expectancy anything to write home about (in 2002, it stood at 53 years and 64 years for men and women respectively, compared with 55/64 for Ukraine, 63/68 in Poland and 67/71 in the US).
The demographic situation in Russia is usually painted in apocalyptic terms. The Russian Cross – the post-Soviet transition into a world of death without new life – will supposedly preclude it from attaining First World living standards and wreck any Great Power, let alone superpower, pretensions. Is Russia Too Sick to Matter and the Sick Man of Europe, as alleged by Nicholas Eberstadt in two reports in 1999 and 2004, respectively? Are we seeing the Death of a Nation?
To answer these questions, we’ll look at the statistics and trends, and extrapolate into the future under three different scenarios – 1. Stagnation, 2. Improvement and 3. Transformation. In the end we conclude that while the demographic, or rather the mortality, problem is indeed serious, it need not entail pessimism if appropriate measures are taken. Nor will it have anything but a negligible effect on the economy.
First, let us look at the historical trends. Below, I have collated the birth and death rate for Russia from 1959-2008 using data from The Human Mortality Database, Soviet Economic Statistical Series and Rosstat. Subtracting the death rate from the birth rate gives the rate of natural increase.