Russia's Demographic Trends
As the saying goes, “demography is destiny.” Analyzing changes in population has profound implications for the future of a country. This is exemplified by Russia’s Moscow Central District and the North Caucasus Region, two areas with distinct demographic trends primarily concerning population growth and decline. Change in population has three components — the birth rate, the death rate, and migration — which will be compared and contrasted in the two regions.
Central Russia is often aptly described as “the heart of the country.” The region centers around Moscow, the capital and largest city. It is the center of Russian financial and political power. Though Moscow’s population is increasing, its fertility rate is below replacement level (2.1) at just 1.5 children per woman. Population is further suppressed by a high mortality rate. Thus, population increase is largely driven by migration from both within and outside the country.
Moscow’s birth rate has been a subject of interest and concern by its government. President Vladimir Putin considers encouraging a “demographic revival” as part of his historic duty to the Russian nation.1 Russia’s fertility rate experienced a sharp decline in the first half of the 20th century, falling from 6.36 in 1930 to 2.58 in 1945. It continued this trend, falling below replacement level in the early 1990s and eventually reached a low of 1.25 in 2000.2 To address this,President Putin introduced child-support programs to encourage childbearing in 2006. The Russian government began providing families with monthly child support of 1,500 rubles per month, and a 250,000 ruble payment for the birth of a second child.3 Since then, the fertility rate has somewhat recovered, climbing to 1.82 in 2020.4 Though this is still below replacement level, it is evidence of a positive trend.
Moscow’s birth rate trends are complex and, at times, contradictory. There are several contrasting factors at play. A well educated population is strongly correlated with a decreased birth rate. Education level is a strong indicator of an individual’s values; the obtaining of higher education frequently indicates ambitious career goals, but leaves less time for family and child-rearing. The proportion of 18-29 year olds who desire to be childless is 5.7% among those with primary vocational training or lower. This climbs to 10.2% and 12.6% for those with a secondary vocational education and a higher education, respectively. As women tend to now have children at older ages, the probability of having more children diminishes and the prospect of reaching replacement level is more difficult. Whereas it was previously expected that women would have several children, it is becoming more socially acceptable to have few or none at all.5
Another factor that influences Moscow’s birth rate is the subjective feeling of happiness among male and female adults relating to the decision to have children. According to a study by the Russian Institute for Social Analysis and Forecasting, as men become increasingly educated, they view children as a necessary component for happiness. Conversely, the higher educated a woman is, the more likely it is that she feels that she can be happy without children. Various factors correlate with attitudes towards childlessness in different ways. If a person was born in Moscow, for example, he or she is 1.8 times more likely to indicate a preference for no children than a person born outside of Moscow. Likewise, a high level of income increases the preference for childlessness by 1.4 times. The absence of siblings is a strong indicator that increases the proportion by 2.9 times, while having secondary vocational or higher education increases the proportion by 2 times.7
Moscow has been very successful at lowering its mortality rate. Between 1990 and 2014, the standardized death rates decreased by 43%. This is largely attributable to a stabilized political situation from the tumultuous 1990s. However, Moscow still has a higher mortality rate than other comparable world cities. The leading causes of death are diseases of the circulatory/cardiovascular system followed by cancer, then external causes. With regard to cancer, the largest proportion of neoplasms occur in the respiratory system and the esophagus followed by neoplasms of the digestive system.6
A study from the Russian National Research University Higher School Of Economics found that a disproportionate amount of deaths in Moscow come from diseases of the circulatory system. The study finds that what distinguishes Moscow from these cities is the “general backwardness of Russian healthcare.” Other developed countries use extremely effective but expensive treatments for strokes and cardiovascular diseases that are absent in the Russian public healthcare system. The reason cardiovascular disease is so prevalent in Moscow is due to several factors including high alcohol intake, tobacco smoking, improper eating habits, physical inactivity, and obesity.6
Cancer of the respiratory system is partly caused by air pollution. In November 2020, Moscow measured its highest level of air pollution in 16 years. The number of vehicles on the road have increased rapidly and their emissions contribute to the incidence of lung cancer.7 This, in combination with the high rate of tobacco smoking, contributes to deaths relating to respiratory neoplasms. People’s high fat diets are what mostly contribute to digestive neoplasms.6
Additionally, Moscow did not escape the Coronavirus pandemic. In fact, Russia had the 5th highest number of confirmed cases in the world which sharply increased its mortality rate in 2020.8 The population density and shared apartment buildings in Moscow exacerbated the infection rate. Additionally, after the government declared “victory” over the virus in summer 2020, the mask wearing ordinance was lifted.9 When cases surged thereafter, reimposing the rule was unpopular — many Muscovites prefer waiting for the vaccine to be mass-administered as opposed to being subjected to another lockdown. As of late, Moscow has the highest number of new cases in the country.10
Moscow is the indisputable leader in attracting both interregional and international migrants; it is particularly attractive to young Russians from around the country who come to the metropolis for two reasons: to get an education and, later, to find a job in the city. Moscow also attracts a lot of foreign labor, as Russia has one of the world’s most liberal immigration policies. Anyone who works in Russia for five years and learns the Russian language can become a citizen. This is a government response to the need for a larger, cheaper workforce. The Kremlin plans to attract up to 10 million Russian-speaking migrants by 2025, approximately half of whom will go to Moscow. Additionally, there are approximately 1,750,000 illegal immigrants in the Moscow region, who either hope to obtain residency in Russia or move on to a western country. Around 150,000 of these are from developing countries, especially Afghanistan, while the rest are predominantly from the republics of the former Soviet Union.11
The Caucasus is Russia’s wild, mountainous southern region. It is situated at the intersection of Europe and Asia, between the Orthodox north and the Muslim south. It is the second most densely populated region in the country, after the Central district, yet it is the least urbanized. Only 58% of its population live in cities. It has the highest fertility rate in Russia and long life expectancy; however, it receives few immigrants. The economy of the North Caucasus is centered around an agrarian population along the Kuban River and large natural gas deposits.12
The North Caucasus can effectively be separated into two types of regions: those that are predominantly ethnic Russian and those that are predominantly non-ethnic Russian. These other peoples hail from republics including Adygea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardia-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, and Chechnya. While all the ethnic Russian regions are experiencing a decline in the fertility rate, the non-Russian regions are heterogenous. Some, such as Adygea, have a low birth rate of1.41 children per woman. However, other groups — especially Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya — have higher birth rates of 2.37, 2.22, and 2.15, respectively. Caucasian and Turkic peoples traditionally place a lot of importance on having many children. There is a large agrarian population which, for practical reasons, need more people to work the farms. These families tend to have more children compared to urban families. Furthermore, a large devout Muslim population is present in this region, which is correlated with higher birthrates. 13
The republics of the Caucasus have the highest proportion of centenarians in the world.14 In the mountains and foothills, rural villages have remained relatively unchanged for centuries. A daily diet of cheese, fermented goat milk, and yogurt, in tandem with minimal smoking and alcohol consumption, are likely explanations. The people also grow vegetables in their gardens without the use of pesticides and eat fruit straight from harvest.15 Additionally, high elevations tend to increase longevity because at higher altitudes, oxygen levels are lower, and the adaptive response of the body is to produce more blood cells and vessels. Oxygen is thus circulated around the body faster, and more blood vessels lowers the probability of blockage that could cause a heart attack or a stroke.16 In 2000, while Russia had an average mortality rate of 15.3 per 1,000 inhabitants, the North Caucasus region’s mortality rate was 13 per 1,000.17
The unstable socio-economic and political situation intensified emigration flows from the North Caucasus Region in the post-Soviet Period. The largest ethnic group that left the region has been ethnic Russians. In total, over 55% of ethnic Russians who lived in the region during the Soviet Period have left for other parts of Russia. In the republics of Ingushetia and Chechnya, this number is over 90%.18 This emigration has suppressed the region’s population growth and is the reason why, despite the high birth rate, Chechnya’s population decreased from 955,100 in 1989 to 767,900 in 2000.19 Most of these emigrants move to other parts of Russia, but Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia are other common destinations.20 About 50% of migrants cited discrimination based on ethnicity or religion as their chief motive for leaving their previous locale of residence. Moreover, a further 30% cited a lack of job opportunities and difficult financial situation among their primary reasons for leaving.21
Comparison and Contrast
Based on the information presented, we can compare and contrast the two regions. In terms of birth rate, the Caucasus region fares better than Moscow. This is due to the topography of the Caucasus, which encourages rural farming communities. Larger families are incentivized to provide more labour to work the land. On the contrary, the high cost of living and highly educated population in Moscow discourages child rearing. Religion also plays a role as the highly traditional social structure of the Caucasus encourages high fertility rates in contrast to the more liberal Moscow.
Considering the mortality rates of both regions, there are striking differences. The lifestyle choices of the urban Muscovites preclude longer lifespans. Moscow’s diet, high alcohol intake, and constant tobacco smoking, paired with an inadequate healthcare system, renders them vulnerable to cardiovascular disease and neoplasms of the respiratory and digestive systems. In contrast, despite undergoing conflict in the 1990s, the Caucasus Region has a lower mortality rate. This is in large part due to healthier lifestyles encouraged by rural living. Additionally, the religious aversion to alcohol plays a part in preventing destructive habits. The high altitude in the Caucasus also makes the body less susceptible to the diseases that plague Moscow.
Lastly, in terms of geographic movement, Moscow is characterized by a net inflow of migration while the Caucasus is characterized by a net outflow. Immigrants are attracted to Moscow due to its prestigious universities and plentiful job opportunities. On the other hand, emigrants flee the Caucasus region due to conflict and poor material conditions.
1: Berman, Ilan. “Putin's Demographic Revival Is A Pipe Dream.” The Moscow Times, The Moscow Times, 3 May 2021, www.themoscowtimes.com/2020/01/23/putins-demographic-revival-is-a-pipe-dream-a69005.
2: Davanzo, J., & Grammich, C. (2001). Dire Demographics: Population Trends in the Russian Federation. doi:10.7249/mr1273 Page 22
3: A second baby? Russia's mothers aren't persuaded. (2006, May 19). Retrieved from https://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0519/p01s04-woeu.html
4: O'Neill, A. (2021, March 02). Russia: Fertility rate 1840-2020. Retrieved from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1033851/fertility-rate-russia-1840-2020/
5: Maleva, T. M., & Tyndik, A. O. (2015). The trap of Moscow’s low birthrate: The highly educated childless? Regional Research of Russia, 5(2), 163-172. doi:10.1134/s2079970515020070
6: Andreev, E., Kvasha, E., & Kharkova, T. (2017). Mortality in Moscow and other megacities of the world: Similarities and differences. Демографическое обозрение, 79-115. doi:10.17323/demreview.v3i5.7312
7: Number of cars in Moscow quintuples over 27 years - mayor. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://tass.com/society/981132
8: Russia ranked fifth in the world for confirmed COVID-19 cases. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://tass.com/society/1153293
9: Bodner, M. (2020, June 24). Putin, safe behind Kremlin walls, declares victory over COVID-19 with huge military parade. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/putin-safe-behind-kremlin-walls-declares-victory-over-covid-19-n1231871
10: Rainsford, S. (2020, November 10). Coronavirus: Russia resists lockdown and pins hopes on vaccine. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-54885616
11: Yudina, T. N. (2005). Labour migration into Russia: The response of state and society. Current Sociology, 53(4), 583-606.
12: Blinnikov, M. S. (2021). A geography of Russia and its neighbors. The Guilford Press
13: Khalkechev, M. N. (2006). Birthrates and Reproductive Attitudes of Young People in Karachai-Cherkessia. Russian Education & Society, 48(9), 80-93. doi:10.2753/res1060-9393480907 82
14: (n.d.). Retrieved from https://azer.com/aiweb/categories/magazine/23_folder/23_articles/23_centenarians.html
15: Bedford, S. (2018, February 13). Why the Caucasus Has So Many 100-Year-Olds. Retrieved from https://theculturetrip.com/europe/azerbaijan/articles/why-the-caucasus-has-so-many-100-year-olds/
16: Living at high altitude reduces risk of dying from heart disease: Low oxygen may spur genes to create blood vessels. (2011, March 26). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110325151643.htm
17: Riazantsev, S. V. (2003). The Demographic Situation in the North Caucasus. Sociological Research, 42(2), 30-44. doi:10.2753/sor1061-0154420230 Page 32
18: Uznarodov, D. I. (2016). The specifics of the internal migration processes in the North Caucasus in the post-soviet period. Научный альманах стран Причерноморья, (2), 22-26.
19: Riazantsev, S. V. (2003). The Demographic Situation in the North Caucasus. Sociological Research, 42(2), 30-44. doi:10.2753/sor1061-0154420230 Page 32
20: Dermendzhieva, Z. (2011). Emigration from the South Caucasus: who goes abroad and what are the economic implications?. Post-Communist Economies, 23(3), 377-398.
21: Riazantsev, S. V. (2003). The Demographic Situation in the North Caucasus. Sociological Research, 42(2), 30-44. doi:10.2753/sor1061-0154420230 Page 35