Russia’s Population Implosion

Years ago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn coined the phrase “preservation of the people,” by which he meant Russia’s cultural survival. Today, it applies to Russia in a far more literal way.

Although I am a physicist, I began to study demography about15 years ago, in the belief that the key global problem was not so much the threat of nuclear annihilation as the dynamics of population growth. It was a grim recognition that Russia faces the opposite problem: a rapid decline in population that threatens every aspect of Russian life.

Indeed, just in the last ten years, Russia’s population has dropped by 9.5 million, despite the many thousands of Russians returning from former Soviet republics. The birthrate has increased somewhat beginning since 2000, and now stands near 1.5 million a year, but this is 700,000-800,000 below the replacement rate.

Many observers argue that Russians are not having enough children because life is so harsh. But the problem is not so simple. The United States, Europe, Japan, Australia, and Canada have all seen declining birth rates as well. In Spain, the birthrate of 1.07 per woman is even lower than in Russia.