Russian History



With the exception of a few ethnic groups in the North Caucasus, birthrates for all nationalities in Russia have generally declined in the postwar period (see Ethnic Composition, ch. 4). Throughout the Soviet period, urbanization was rapid, and urban families generally had fewer children than rural ones. The urbanization process ended in 1992, when for the first time in the postwar period a smaller percentage of the Russian population lived in cities than the year before. By that time, however, substantial reasons existed for Russians to limit the size of their families. The population decline of the Russians has been especially pronounced in comparison with other ethnic groups. In many of the twenty-one republics, the titular nationalities have registered higher birthrates and larger average family sizes than the Russian populations.

The birthrate of Russians already was falling dramatically in the 1960s, moving from 23.2 per 1,000 population at the beginning of the decade to 14.1 in 1968. By 1983 the rate had recovered to 17.3 per 1,000, stimulated by a state program that provided incentives for larger families, including increased maternity benefits. Another decline in the birthrate began in 1987, and by 1993 the rate was only 9.4 per 1,000. According to the projections of the Center for Economic Analysis, after reaching its lowest point (8.0 per 1,000) in 1995, the birthrate will rise gradually to 9.7 per 1,000 in 2005.

In the turnaround year of 1992, the number of births in Russia dropped by 207,000 (13 percent) compared with 1991, and the number of deaths increased by 116,000 (7 percent). The fertility rate has dropped in both urban and rural areas. In the early 1990s, the lowest rates were in the northwest, especially St. Petersburg and in central European Russia. The disparity between birth and death rates was especially pronounced in the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg and in the European oblasts of Pskov, Tula, Tver', Belgorod, Leningrad, Novgorod, Yaroslavl', Moscow, Tambov, and Ivanovo. In 1992 natural population growth occurred only in the republics of Kalmykia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Gorno-Altay, Sakha, and Tyva, and in Tyumen' and Chita oblasts of western and eastern Siberia, respectively. However, although fertility rates in the predominantly Muslim republics of the North Caucasus and the Volga region continued to exceed those of the Slavic population, by 1995 the rate was declining even in Dagestan, the republic with the highest birthrate in Russia.

For Russians the total fertility rate, which is the average number of children a woman of childbearing age will have at current birthrates, fell from 2.0 in 1989 to 1.4 in 1993. The State Committee for Statistics (Goskomstat) estimates that the rate will decline further to 1.0 by the year 2000. Roughly half as many children were born in 1993 as in 1987. In 1994 the population of Russia fell by 920,000.

The sharp decline in the fertility rate in the 1990s was linked to the social and economic troubles triggered by the rapid transition to a market economy and resulting unemployment. Families have been destabilized, and living standards for many have fallen from even the modest levels of the Soviet era (see The Family, ch. 5). Under such circumstances, decisions on marriage and childbearing often are postponed. Particularly in the cities, housing has been extremely hard to acquire, and the percentage of working wives has increased significantly in the post-Soviet era (see The Role of Women, ch. 5). The number of common-law marriages, which produce fewer children than traditional marriages, has increased since the 1960s, as has the percentage of babies born to unattached women.

History also has affected the absolute number of births. The birthrate during World War II was very low, accounting for part of the low birthrate of females in the 1960s, which in turn lowered the rate in the 1990s. Between 1989 and 1993, the number of women in the prime childbearing age-group decreased by 1.3 million, or 12 percent, making a major contribution to the 27 percent decline in births during that period. Between 1990 and 1994, the government's official estimate of the infant mortality rate rose from 17.4 per 1,000 live births to 19.9, reflecting deterioration of Russia's child care and nutrition standards. But Russia has not used international viability standards for newborns, and one Western estimate placed the 1995 rate at 26.3. Between 1992 and 1995, the official maternal mortality rate also rose from forty-seven to fifty-two deaths per 100,000 births.