Posted on July 26, 2007

Demographic Future Bleak For City

Ali Nassor, St. Petersburg Times, July 24, 2007

Demographers have provided dire statistics depicting a sharp decline in Russia’s population in the next few decades—and said that St. Petersburg, which loses an average of 70 people every day and has the lowest birth rate in the nation, could be hit hardest.

According to the St. Petersburg Civil Registry Committee, an average of 130 children are born in the city every day but the daily mortality rate is just over 200.

However, the International Institute for Strategic Studies maintains that St. Petersburg’s leading position in Russia’s population decline has been exaggerated, reporting worse figures in the neighboring regions of Lenoblast, Novgorod and Pskov with annual demographic decline there ranging between 1.21 percent and 1.5 percent, while St. Petersburg is experiencing a less than 1 percent annual slump.

Dmitry Dubrovsky, head of modern ethnology and inter-ethnic relations at St. Petersburg’s Russian Museum of Ethnography, said the forecast demographic catastrophe has nothing to do with Moscow and St. Petersburg, “because these cities as a rule are attractive spots for both internal and foreign migrants, ready to cover any demographic gap.”

But “the real concern in Russia’s official circles is about an extinction of Russians as a race, rather than population decline in its traditional sense,” says Dubrovsky, adding that it was one of the factors that prompted President Vladimir Putin last year to adopt a special policy aimed at “calling ethnic Russians abroad back home, but restricting migration for other nationalities.”

To reverse the current prevailing demographic trend, according to Dubrovsky, Russia has to revise its socio-economic and development policies so that the balance of development and fair distribution of services between rural and urban Russia and between the center and the periphery can be equally ensured.

“If there is anything to fear from the migration trend,” continued Dubrovsky, “Russia should start with mending its chaotic internal migration rather than focusing on the comparatively more easily controlled migration from abroad.”

However, the St. Petersburg Bureau of Statistics, or Petrostat has offered figures depicting the city’s alarming demographic situation, saying the mortality rate was almost double the birth rate in the first quarter of the year compared with the same period last year when 18,700 deaths were registered. About 9,986 children were born in St. Petersburg during the period, driving the city’s population to 4.567 million by April, according to Petrostat.

The St. Petersburg Civil Registry Committee say the birth rate has declined by 46 percent, while mortality jumped by 27 percent in the past 10 years, including the first 5 years that saw half of the male labor force and one-eighth of the female force die before reaching retirement age.

As the child population continually declined, it was taken over by the elderly population in 2001, with 631 pensioners to every 1,000 working people.

Russia loses 800,000 people every year, said Anatoly Antonov, head of the Department of Demography and Family Sociology at the Faculty of Sociology at Moscow State University.

RIA Novosti quoted him earlier in the month as saying that “Russia will be inhabited by only 40 million people in the next 40 years, down from the current 143 million, if it does not adopt a policy to preserve natives in their regions.”

But the United Nations says Russia’s population will fall by a third by the middle of the century when the world population will be close to 9 billion, given the ongoing rate of Russia’s economic growth and living standards.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies report warns that if the slump is not reversed, Russia’s population will be “only a little bigger than that of Vietnam and Ethiopia, one-third of the U.S. and one-twelfth that of China,” by 2025. The current U.S. population is about 250 million.

Currently, Russia’s annual rate of population decline is 0.5 percent, but will jump to 1.2 percent by the year 2020 and to 2.2 percent a decade later, the Institute reported.