By Paul Goble
Vladimir Putin’s much-ballyhooed pro-natalist policies including maternal capital and monthly subsidies for families giving birth to a first child have failed to stop Russia’s demographic decline, with the number of newborns falling by 203,000 in 2017 to 1,690,000, a 10.7 percent decline, according to Rosstat data.
This was the worst decline in the last decade, experts say; and the number of births fell in all regions of the country with the exception of Chechnya, the product of underlying demographic trends that government policies have done little or nothing to change (ura.news/articles/1036273714).
Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Institute of Demography of the Higher School of Economics, says that the declines this year were no surprise to the expert community. The number of women of reproductive age has fallen dramatically, the echo of the low number of births in the early 1990s.
According to him, “it is impossible to change this situation significantly.” Moreoveer, “the demographic measures the state has undertaken to a large extent affect” when people have children but not how many they have. Thus, maternal capital or subsidies may cause people to have children in order to get the money but not to have more which is what the regime wants.
Indeed, most officials recognize this reality. Labor and Social Policy Minister Maksim Topilin, for example, warned last year that in the immediate future, “the number of women of reproductive age will fall by a quarter or even more.” Unless birthrates jumped upward – and they are moving in the opposite direction – the number of children will continue to fall.
Thus, part of the decline reflects the echoes of earlier demographic problems, such as the smaller number of women born during the war, then 20 years later and so on. But Olga Ivanova, the head of the Center for the Resolution of Social Conflicts, says that the situation has been made worse by the current economic crisis and cutbacks in medical and social services.
Sergey Rybalchenko, who advises the government on demography, observes that “polls show that the present demographic measures taken by the state are clearly insufficient. Yes, the initiatives promoted by the head of state work but they must be broadened” if Russia is to avoid demographic disaster.
In particular, he continues, the government needs to provide more support for people with larger families. Otherwise, most Russians will decide not to have more children lest the burden of raising them pushes them into poverty. Among the steps to help them should be a radical expansion of child care facilities.
Russians do not rush into having children without reflection, Konstantin Dolinin of the Parent’s Assembly says. They calculate what having them will mean to their own prospects. Now, they can see that people with four or five children are far more likely to end up poor than those with one or even none.
Igor Beloborodov of the Independent Institute of the Family and Demography is even more blunt: the state can’t “buy more children.” If it tries, it will fail or produce results that it may now want, as is the case now. Maternal capital and child subsidies are boosting the birthrates significantly only in non-Russian republics, thus changing the Russia’s ethnic balance.