And the whole area will be worse off in terms of population. Economically – maybe not, as they’ll get funeral money and all sorts of payments; but the demographics will definitely get worse.
According to independent media, Putin's decree had a secret clause that the Russian government planned to mobilize 1.2 million people. What might be the demographic consequences of such a large-scale mobilization?
There are almost 15 million men aged 20-35 in Russia. Each wave could take the number of births down 2-3% in nine-ten months – that is the minimum. We could have 3% due to the panic and 2% due to the first wave of mobilization. But with each new wave, the psychological shock will be weaker and weaker – that's for certain. People will get used to it.
What will labor migrants do – for example, from Central Asia? Should we expect an inflow or outflow?
The number of foreigners has fallen to low levels, unseen in decades: around 6 million, versus 11 million in 2013.On the one hand, the labor market is being stretched, and some concessions may be introduced for migrants. Moreover, the ruble is stronger and therefore salaries are bigger. But on the other hand, construction and other economic activity has suffered. Moreover, migrants can be mobilized. Maybe one day they will be offered so much money that they actually want to go and fight? It all depends on what the government does, on what rules and laws it puts in place. Migrants will likely continue to come to Russia, but the flows might be smaller. But now many of them seem to be fleeing Russia.
What can you say about the anti-abortion stance and repressive anti-LGBT laws that the Russian authorities have attributed to concerns about fertility?
[LGBT persecution] is pure PR, ideology and distraction from the real issues. This has nothing to do with demographics and won’t noticeably affect it in the coming years.
As for abortions, they are mostly a thing of the past. Compared to the Soviet period, induced abortions have dropped more than tenfold. Throughout the 1990s, and then over the following twenty years, the number steadily declined. It’s always falling – every year, no matter what. Thus, the authorities are simply diverting attention away from pressing problems, while they have completely different goals and objectives.
There are more women than men in Russia, and now the gap looks set to widen even more. Will that impact demographics?
There have always been more women than men in Russia. Before World War I the gap was very slight, and then it started growing – first with World War I, the Civil War, and mass emigration and later with Stalinist repressions and World War II – which made it almost the biggest such gap in the world.
Since then, the share of women in Russia has been declining almost nonstop, except for a short period in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when men had tremendous excess mortality due to alcoholism, homicide and other phenomena associated with social turmoil. Now the share of women is back on the decline, though it still remains one of the highest in the world, and if nothing had changed, it would’ve continued to decline. But this abrupt departure of men, combined with their deaths in the war, of course, will halt that trend at least for a while.
Alcoholism has been cited as one of the key consequences of the PTSD that those returning from the front will face as the country becomes increasingly impoverished. How will this affect demographics?
If men are really drinking, there will definitely be a rise in mortality and fall in life expectancy. But I don't really believe that on a large scale, as there has been a massive, generational, all-out shift in alcohol consumption from hard liquor to beer. It’s fundamental, and it’s hard for me to imagine that it would come to a halt and reverse. These changes began in the 2000s and had constantly been gaining ground, but stopped recently around 2015.This is a bad sign. But the so-called “cardiovascular revolution” has been noticeable since that time, which allowed the mortality to decline further. Smokers’ share in deaths has been going down uninterruptedly since 2006. State regulation of spirits production tightened the same year, which showed 170k fewer deaths versus the previous one.
In addition, people’s checkbooks took a big hit in 2014-15. Our economic recession lasted 2-3 years and ended only in 2017. But it didn’t drive a rise in alcoholism or mortality, just stopped the transition to beer from liquor.
Are there measures that can be taken during the war that would help improve the demographic situation?
There are, of course. For example, if you pay RUB1 million for a second child and 1.5 million for a third. It would require less than RUB1 trillion (0.8% GDP) a year, and births would rise 10-15% on a permanent basis. It would compensate for the impact of the war and even all those programs that foolishly weren’t extended when needed. But instead, the authorities went and allocated RUB1 trillion for benefits to families with children next year – that is very good on its own, but it doesn’t directly give a boost to births.
You used to praise government programs aimed at raising the birth rate. Which ones were most effective?
The maternity capital for a second child was the most effective program of its kind in the world – in terms of the number of children born because of the program. It has brought at least 2.0 million additional children, and more likely even 2.5 million, which have never been born otherwise. But after maternity capital began to be paid for the first child, the program’s effectiveness began to fall and will soon tend toward zero. Previously, soon-to-be-expected deadlines and the last minute prolongation of this program have partially smashed gained momentum in fertility.
The second program is RUB450,000 toward mortgage payments for a third or a subsequent child, planned for termination after January 1, 2023. Since 2020, it has accounted for 80,000 third and subsequent children. Well, maternity capital from regions – if it was bigger, over RUB250,000-300,000, and if there weren’t so many restrictions on how the money can be used and criteria for qualifying for it. Those three programs were effective. They worked – but no more.
The program with RUB450,000 for mortgage payments was seemingly canceled as it was not prolonged till June, and maternity capital started to be given for the first child, though I urged not to do it. The authorities were guided by the narrow-minded, amateur logic: “You can’t have a second child if you don’t have a first.” But the number of first births at that time was dropping quickly since the number of young women was declining faster than the number of women over 30, among other reasons.
And soon it will be the opposite: the number of women over 30 will decline faster than the number of younger women, which is starting to rise.
And so these decisions are completely ill-informed – the people who made them don’t understand the issue. You get the feeling that Putin has foolish and unprofessional advisers.
It is strange that the same people could pursue such different demographic policies.
No, it’s not the same people. Maternity capital was invented in 2005-06. And now they (the so-called “experts”) are just poking around blindly; there is no system or evidence-based decision-making. Population policy is being handled by amateurs who don’t understand the difference between demographic and family/social policy.)
You criticized Rosstat for how it operated during the pandemic. But how will it now get out of reporting on statistics about the war?
I didn’t criticize Rosstat, you’re mistaken. I’ve always spoken up for and defended Rosstat – I said it wasn’t their fault, but rather their misfortune, that they were forced to do what they were forced to do. Rosstat was trying to get out of it somehow. I’ve cursed the Ministry of Health and especially the Consumer Protection Agency (Rospotrebnadzor).
Rosstat has a much worse problem. The census was simply a failure, its data can be thrown in the trash. Some tens of billions of rubles just went down the drain.