Russia slides into a demographic abyss
This is the sort of stuff that
sub-editors love. Over the weekend AFP reported that a 22-year-old
Russian man downed three bottles of vodka and then, to the horror of
his wife, hurled himself from the balcony of his fifth-floor
apartment. He fell 15 metres (about 50 feet) and landed with barely a
scratch. He staggered upstairs to his home where his wife began to
berate him. So once again he jumped from the balcony -- and again
survived with barely a scratch. Alexei Roskov now swears that he has
given up the bottle.
But many Russian men are not as lucky
as Mr Roskov. Nicholas Eberstadt summarises the state of Russian
health in a dismaying article in World Affairs Journal. Drunkenness
make a major contribution to the abysmal state of health in Russia,
particularly amongst men. Death rates from alcohol poisoning are 100
times higher there than in the US. Apparently adults, both men and
women, drink an average of one bottle of vodka a week.
But drinking is not the only reason why
fertility rates and life expectancy in the Russian Federation are
falling. In one gut-wrenching paragraph Eberstadt describes deaths
from injuries and poisoning:
Russia’s patterns of death from
injury and violence (by whatever provenance) are so extreme and
brutal that they invite comparison only with the most tormented spots
on the face of the planet today. The five places estimated to be
roughly in the same league as Russia as of 2002 were Angola, Burundi,
Congo, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. To go by its level of mortality
injury alone, Russia looks not like an emerging middle-income market
economy at peace, but rather like an impoverished sub-Saharan
conflict or post-conflict society.
This is just one area in which Russia
is drifting towards demographic disaster. Since 1992, its population
has been progressively falling. The poor long-suffering Russians have
experienced depopulation before in fairly recent times: for seven
years after the Bolshevik Revolution, for two years during Stalin's
collectivisation, and for five years during and after World War II.
But this bout of depopulation has been happening in a time of peace
and relative stability for far longer, and shows no signs of
Another alarming area is the decline of
the family. Like most Western countries, Russians seem adverse to
marriage and keen on divorce. But unlike them, "there are
unambiguous indications of a worsening of social well-being for a
significant proportion of the country’s children—in effect, a
disinvestment in children in the face of a pronounced downward shift
in national fertility patterns."
According to official statistics, as of
2004 over 400,000 Russian children below 18 years of age were in
“residential care.” This means that roughly 1 child in 70 was in
a children’s home, orphanage, or state boarding school. Russia is
also home to a large and possibly growing contingent of street
children whose numbers could well exceed those under institutional
care. According to Human Rights Watch, over 100,000 children in
Russia have been abandoned by their parents each year since 1996. If
accurate, this number... would suggest that in excess of 7 percent of
Russia’s children are being discarded by their parents in this new
era of steep sub-replacement fertility.
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