Analyst Says Russia Doesn't Have Demographics For War
As Russia spent much of 2021 amassing troops on its Ukrainian border, an important headline almost escaped notice.
Photo Insert: The most lasting impact of Russia's demographic decline was the concurrent collapse in birth rates.
While Russian President Vladimir Putin threatened Ukraine, Russia suffered its largest natural population decline since World War II, losing 997,000 people in the yearlong period between October 2020 and September 2021, analyst Brent Peabody wrote for Foreign Policy.
Although coronavirus casualties in Russia were severe—and probably highly underreported—this wasn’t a one-time anomaly. Instead, it was the opening shot of a longer-term trend that will manifest in earnest over the next decade. Russia is about to enter a prolonged and painful period of demographic decline at home—complicating its expansionist ambitions abroad.
The roots of this demographic decline lie in the 1990s along with the chaos wrought by Russia’s post-Soviet transition from a centrally-planned economy to a capitalist, market-based one. The transition was characterized by economic turmoil, mass unemployment, and alcoholism, all of which combined to briefly give Russia one of the world’s lowest male life expectancies.
The most lasting impact, however, was the concurrent collapse in birth rates. From 1993 to 2007, the fertility rate (defined as the number of children a woman can be expected to have over the course of her lifetime) fell below 1.5, far below the 2.1 replacement rate needed to hold a population steady.
The effects of this dramatic and prolonged collapse in birth rates are now becoming apparent. A brief glance at Russia’s population pyramid illustrates this knock-on effect.
There are around 12.5 million Russians between the ages of 30 and 34 who were born around or just before the collapse of the Soviet Union. But there are around 6.5 million people between the ages of 20 and 24 who were born during the chaos of the late 1990s.
This smaller base of people able to bear children means the birthrate is almost destined to decline. And that is exactly what has happened; after a brief period of natural population growth in the mid-2010s, Russia’s population once again began to contract in 2019. It will continue to do so well into the foreseeable future.