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Russian Demographics
May 15, 2006 16:49

The recent years have seen the birth of a notion that may imply death to the Russian nation in the future. It is called "the Russian cross" and stands for the pattern of the birth and death rate curves – ‘X’, the former down, the latter up.

Strangely enough, but until recently the outside world seemed to be concerned about Russia even more than the Russians. The World Bank beat alarm in its 147 page report on the causes of the national disaster.

The outlook, according to the paper, is glum, with a 30% reduction in the population over the next 50 years.

And only now have the authorities awaken to the issue. A big part of the Russian president’s state of the nation address to the Federal Assembly, Russian parliament, focused on demography and ways to boost population.

Economic reasons The early 1980s, including the rule of Mikhail Gorbachev, were a period of relative stability which encouraged a kind of baby boom, later heavily offset by the political upheavals and economic ups and downs of the 1990s. All of this, including low incomes, inadequate housing conditions, doubts in the ability to ensure a decent level of healthcare and education proved strong barriers for Russian mothers.

Between 1995 and 1998, life expectancy rose but the 1998 currency default checked the progress. As of January 1, 2002, the Russian population stood at 144 million, down 4.3 million from its peak at the beginning of 1992. The pace of natural decrease (the surplus of deaths over births) and slowing migration appears to have intensified since 1998.

In the past decade, the average annual decrease of the population was 700,000. Last year alone saw a 680,000 cut. Today, there are less than 143 million people in Russia, as the Federal Statistics Agency reports.

Other reasons for the downfall are the high rate of violent crimes – one of the highest in the world – alcoholism, traffic accidents and diseases. The rate of intoxicated killings by men and women was at 30% and 12% respectively in 2002.

Charity begins at home

The president’s address drew the problem into the spotlight voicing ambitious initiatives to tackle it: “First, we need to lower the death rate. Second, we need an effective migration policy. And third, we need to increase the birth rate.” The proposals boil down to the following:

1) The introduction of the national healthcare project focusing on the detection, prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease and other illnesses that are high causes of death among our population;

2) support programmes for mothers, children and families;

3) prevention of the import and production of bootleg alcohol;

4) migration policy to attract compatriots from abroad;

5) programme to improve road safety;

6) a 20% increase of pensions;

7) restoration of time-honoured values of love and care for family and home.

Initiative numbered 2 featured a rise in the childcare benefit for the first child from 700 roubles to 1,500 roubles a month, and to 3,000 roubles a month for the second child. Women who had jobs but then take maternity leave and child care leave until it is one-and-a-half should receive from the state not less than 40 percent of their previous wage. The value of childbirth certificates introduced last year will be brought up from 2,000 roubles to 3,000 roubles for pregnancy centres and from 5,000 roubles to 7,000 roubles for maternity homes.

Women who bear a second child should be compensated for the degradation of their skills and status due to prolonged maternal leave. One of the solutions could be the introduction of a 250,000 rouble state benefit. Mothers could make use of this capital in different ways: improve their housing conditions, for example, by investing it in buying an apartment, making use of a mortgage loan or other loan schemes once the child is three years old, or using it for the children’s education, or putting it into the individual account part of their own old-age pension.

The maternity capital will require an additional 30-40bn roubles earmarked to the budget. The funds may come from the Stabilization Fund, believes Lubov Sliska, first vice-speaker of State Duma. The State Duma that will draft up the final proposal has also to take into account women which already have two or more children.

Apart from it, there are at least 200,000 children living in care centres and orphanages. The government shall double the sum of the benefit paid to guardians or foster parents of children and make it at least 4,500 roubles a month. The one-off payment made to families taking in children will rise to 8,000 roubles.

Is it feasible?

Some of the initiatives are being implemented in the regions, including the Perm Territory, the Pskov and Kurgan Regions, Republic of North Ossetia and Republic of Komi. The city of Moscow is said to be experiencing a baby boom due to extended monetary benefits and good quality of maternity houses.

Such financial assistance is a good indication of support exercised by state towards its people, a late but necessary step. Nevertheless, as some experts believe, even money cannot change the environment and attitudes of people overnight. Until there is doubts in the state’s financial stability, until the chief values shaped by the shift to market economy are to earn, rather than to spend on the family, there situation is unlikely to change drastically.



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