Russia Sees Highest Birth Rate
Since the Collapse of the USSR
On Monday RosBusinessConsulting reported that Russia is experiencing the highest recorded birth rate since the collapse of the Soviet Union. According to the Russian government statistics presented by First Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev, two million women with children under the age of 18 months are now receiving child support allowances in Russia. In the first six months of 2007, the nation recorded 142,000 live births, with the birth rate increasing by 6.5% over the same period last year. Russia's mortality rate, one of the highest in the industrialized world, also declined by the same amount.
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Deputy Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev speaking with Russian Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin (right) at the 2007 St. Petersburg International Economic Forum
On December 22, 2006, a few days before President Putin presented his annual New Year's speech to the nation, the Duma passed a law raising government payments issued to Russian mothers who have a second child to 250,000 rubles (about $10,000). The payments are spread over the first several years of a child's life, and both parents must be Russian citizens to qualify. Russian couples who adopt orphans are also eligible for the government grants.
Nine months after the law went into effect, Medvedev presented his findings on the effects of the new law to President Putin and the press. Russia's Interfax News Agency reported some interesting quotes from Medvedev. In addition to his duties as Deputy Prime Minister, Medvedev is also chairman of the board for the state natural gas monopoly Gazprom. Many Western and Russian pundits consider Medvedev a likely candidate to succeed President Putin in 2008, so it was not surprising to see the Kremlin giving the Deputy Prime Minister an opportunity to shine:
"The [infant mortality] rate stood at 10.5-11 per 1,000 last year, and now it is down to nine," Medvedev said. "The infant death rate in some regions, including St. Petersburg and Bryansk, is close to the European average of five or even three per 1,000."
About 20 billion roubles will be invested in new prenatal centres in Russia in 2008-2009, Medvedev said.
"Prenatal services and maternity homes are key aspects of the demographic program. In general, the condition of our maternity homes is not very good, and some of them are even dilapidated. We will give special attention to this problem," he said.
Asked why Russian women aren't eager to have children, Medvedev said, there are several reasons for that. "The first and most important reason is money. The higher living standards are, the easer it is to think about children," he said. However, this is not so sometimes, he said, referring to prosperous European countries. "Their living standards are very high, but money is not the sole reason for having more children," he noted.
"Our living standards are not that high so far, and it is very important for us to increase revenues of families and promote births," Medvedev said.
"The demographic results and tendencies we have achieved are a result of general stabilisation and people's larger confidence in the future - they can give birth to children, think about the development of their family and future earnings," he said.
Motherhood is definitely "in" among Russia's celebrities
On the global stage, it will likely take more than a decade of pro-family policies for Russia to bring its birth rate back up to replacement levels. Still, after arresting the population decline, Russians would be reproducing at a higher rate than people in Western Europe and Japan - countries where women have received lengthy maternity leave and other incentives to raise children for many years.
Medvedev is well aware that cash payments and rising living standards alone won't lead young Russian women to have more babies, anymore than they will for Italian or Spanish women. Nonetheless, the recent demographic bump demonstrates that even relatively small sums from the Russian treasury targeted at the population crisis can make a big difference.
No government check can give people hope or the desire for posterity. But an improving outlook on life, sweetened with some financial incentives, might persuade more Russian couples who would otherwise remain childless to take the chance of bringing a new life into this world.
UPDATE: Demographics remains a hot topic for Russia watchers - the International Herald Tribune and Russia Profile both published articles on Russia's demographic dilemma this week. Russia Blog's previous post on this topic, "Russia's Declining Population: Who Do You Want to Blame?" explained the post-Soviet baby bust in the context of "everything else". This particular post elicited some extensive comments from the American pundit and strategist Thomas P.M. Barnett, which you can read here and here.