Family, Fertility, and Demographic Dynamics in Russia: Analysis and Forecast

by Anatoly G. Vishnevsky [1]


In the early 1990s, Russia arrived at a turning point in her demographic evolution. The rate of natural population increase (births less deaths) became clearly negative and the size of the population actually began to decrease. Public opinion expressed shock, but for the professional demographers it was not unexpected.

In the early 1990s, Russia arrived at a turning point in her demographic evolution. The rate of natural population increase (births less deaths) became clearly negative and the size of the population actually began to decrease. Public opinion expressed shock, but for the professional demographers it was not unexpected.

Recent demographic trends in post-Soviet Russia have profound roots in Russian history of the 20th century; in particular they are closely linked to the evolution of the Russian family in the post-war period. This paper discusses the long-run trends of this evolution and the changes in family and demographic behavior. All these changes, and their causes and consequences, are interpreted in this paper in the context of the modernization of Russian society in the 20th century. Family modernization is an important aspect of general modernization. The rapid destruction of the peasant family in the late 1920s, as well as mass rural-urban migration, resulted in a break with the traditional family and its demographic behavior and in an accelerated demographic transition. The evolution of the family in Russia was almost the same as in Europe or North America, but with a delay and with certain significant, special features. These include the maintenance of traditionally early and almost universal marriages, relatively early fertility, the predominance of abortion as a main method of family planning, etc. In spite of rapid modernization, family relations and family behavior of a large part of the population maintained archaic features and, as a consequence, the level of fertility in Russia was higher and the population was younger than in the West.

Nevertheless, the postwar decades became a period of increased convergence in the evolution of the family and demographic behavior across Russia and the West (particularly the United States). This is confirmed by the various indicators of family size and composition, family cycle, nuptiality, divorces, fertility, living arrangements, etc. True recent demographic developments in Russia do not indicate a demographic catastrophe, but testify that, in her demographic evolution, Russia follows all developed countries, though she does not always find adequate responses to the challenges she meets on the way.

Modernization of the Family

The fundamental functions of the family--its way of life, rhythm of formation, family roles, relationships, and morality--entered a period of renewal which is still not completed. In the early 20th century in Russia, relatively large rural families with dependent children were prevalent. Since the mid-century, owing to the shift of the majority of the work force to the non-farming sector and to the migration of most of the population into the cities, the majority of families have lived in urban areas (Table 1.1).

Table 1.1

Selected Characteristics of Families in Russia, 1939-1989

1939 1959 1970 1979 1989
Percentage of families living in urban areas 35.4 53.0 63.6 69.6 73.7
Average size of family 4.1 3.6 3.5 3.3 3.2
- Urban 3.6 3.5 3.4 3.2 3.2
- Rural 4.3 3.8 3.8 3.4 3.3
Proportion of families with 5 members or more 35.5 24.9 20.6 13.4 12.6
- Urban 23.6 20.4 15.7 11.1 11.2
- Rural 42.0 29.9 29.3 18.8 16.4

SOURCES: Naselenie Rossii 1993. (Popuation of Russia 1993). Annual Demographic Report of the Center for Demography and Human Ecology, A. Vishnevsky and S. Zakharov, eds, Moscow, Eurasia, 1993. p. 16; Narodonaselenie. Enciklopedicheskij slovar' (Population: An Encyclopedic Dictionary). Moscow, Bol'shaja Rossijskaja Encyklopedia, 1994, p. 404.

At the same time, production activity shifted beyond the family circle and ultimately into wage labor for the majority of people. Family and production obligations were separated in time and space, as their combination become much more complex. In the USSR, these global trends were brought to extremes, notably in regard to the salarization of female labor. By 1970, the percentage of women working outside the home was not much different from that of men (Table 1.2).

Table 1.2

Male and Female Labor Participation Rate by Age Group, 1959-1989 (in percentages)

1959 1970 1979 1989
Male Female Male Female Male Female Male Female
Total population of working ages 89 70 87 82 87 84 87 80
Ages 20-29 92 76 90 85 91 89 91 89
Ages 30-39 96 72 98 91 98 95 98 95
Ages 40-49 94 66 96 89 97 90 97 93
Ages 50-54 88 53 89 74 90 82 90 81

SOURCE: Source: Evolucia sem'i i semejnaia politika v SSSR (Family evolution and family policy in the USSR). Ed. by A. Vishnevsky. Moscow, Nauka, 1992, p. 45.

Another change of crucial importance was a rapid increase in educational attainment by both men and women. In the 1920s, most of the population was illiterate. In the generations of people born in the late 1930s and later, a rapid growth of educational level is observed: the share of men and women with secondary or higher education (10 years or more) increased, with the percentage of women with secondary education being even higher than that of men for the cohorts born between 1935 and 1964, and the proportion of women with higher education greater than that for men for all cohorts born after 1950 (Table 1.3).

Table 1.3

Percentage of Men and Women With Secondary and Higher Education, by Birth Cohort

Secondary Education (general and specialized) Some or Completed Higher Education
Birth Cohort Men Women Men Women
1925-1929 20.6 20.3 10.6 6.8
1930-1934 21.1 20.4 11.1 9.0
1935-1939 32.4 36.3 17.4 13.0
1940-1944 39.6 45.7 19.2 16.2
1945-1949 53.0 58.7 23.0 23.0
1950-1954 60.4 66.5 19.9 20.4
1955-1959 67.9 70.4 18.6 21.2
1960-1964 72.0 72.1 19.1 22.6
1965-1969 73.0 71.1 18.9 23.9

SOURCE: Osnovnye itogi microperepisi naselenia 1994 (The main results of the microcensus 1994). Moscow, Goscomstat, 1994, p. 71.

Size and Composition of the Family and the Household

The modernization of the family and its functions has not been accompanied by a significant change in the proportion of "singles" [2] and, consequently, of persons living in families (Table 1.4). A different situation appears when we consider the size and composition of families themselves. In 1920, the majority of the population lived in rural areas. The average rural family comprised 5.6 persons.[3] Beginning in the late 1920s, the size and composition of families began undergoing a rapid change.

Table 1.4

Percentage of Persons Living in a Family, 1959-1989

1959 1970 1979 1989
Total Population 88.8 88.9 87.4 88.4
Urban Population 86.6 87.4 86.5 88.0
Rural Population 91.2 91.5 89.3 89.4

SOURCE: Naselenie Rossii 1994. (Popuation of Russia 1994). The second annual demographic report of the Center for Demography and Human Ecology. Ed. by A. Vishnevsky. Moscow, Eurasia, 1994. p. 52.

Throughout the post-war period, especially in the 1970s and 1980s, the share of the smallest (i.e., two-member) families increased (especially in rural communities, where this phenomenon was connected with the mass migration of young people to the cities), whereas the proportion of families with five and more members steadily decreased. Over the same period, the proportion of medium-size families (consisting of three or four persons) has exceeded 50 percent and remained relatively constant (Table 1.5).

Table 1.5

Family Distribution by Size, 1939-1989 (in percentages)

Number of Family Members 1939 1959 1970 1979 1989
Total Population:
- 2 20.6 26.7 26.5 31.6 34.2
- 3 22.6 26.6 27.9 31.5 28.0
- 4 21.3 21.8 24.9 23.4 25.2
- 5 or more 35.5 24.9 20.7 13.5 12.6
Urban Population:
- 2 26.9 27.2 26.0 30.5 33.1
- 3 27.7 29.3 31.5 33.9 29.6
- 4 21.8 23.1 26.8 24.6 26.1
- 5 or more 23.6 20.4 15.7 11.0 11.2
Rural Population:
- 2 17.8 26.1 27.3 34.2 37.2
- 3 19.8 23.6 21.8 26.3 23.5
- 4 21.0 20.4 21.6 20.7 22.8
- 5 or more 42.0 29.9 29.3 18.8 16.5

SOURCE: Narodonaselenie. Enciklopedicheskij slovar', Moscow, 1992, p. 429, 328.

The 1994 partial census of the population ("micro-census") for the first time took into account households, rather than families.[4] Distinct from families, households can include persons who are not relatives (for example, farm staff or a nanny) if those persons make contributions (totally or partially) into the household budget. Also, a household can consist of only one person. The results of the micro-census showed that 60 percent of all households consisted of a married couple with or without children. Households that included two married couples or more represented only 4 percent of all households. Tables 1.5 and 1.6 show the differences in the distribution of urban and rural households or families by size: the rural population is distinguished by a higher share of both the smallest and the biggest households or families.

Table 1.6

Households, Frequency Distribution by Size, 1994 (in percentages)

Household Size, Number of Persons Avg. Size
1 2 3 4 5 or more
All households 19.2 26.2 22.6 20.5 11.5 2.84
Urban households 18.1 26.1 24.3 21.0 10.5 2.84
Rural households 22.0 26.8 18.1 19.0 14.1 2.85

SOURCE: Osnovnye itogi microperepisi naselenia 1994, p. 10.

Currently three types of families are most prevalent in the Russian Federation: (A) married couples with children (nuclear families); (B) single parents with children (single-parent nuclear families); (C) married couples with children, or childless, living with one of the wife's or husband's parents or other relatives (extended, or complex, families with a married couple nucleus). In the 1970s and 1980s, over 90 percent of families in the country belonged to one of these three categories. The growth of the percentage of all these categories together has been accompanied by growth of the share of nuclear families (type A) and by reduction of the share of complex families (type C) (see Table 1.7).

Table 1.7

Different Types of Families, 1926-1989 (in percentages)

1926 1979 1989
Moscow Cities of Russia Russian Federation Russian Federation
Family types A,B, and C 82.8 84.7 91.8 91.5
In percent to total of 3 groups:
- Type A 67.8 68.5 72.3 79.9
- Type B 10.7 11.1 13.8 15.7
- Type C 21.5 20.4 13.9 13.7
Other* 17.2 15.3 8.2 8.5

SOURCES: Vassilieva E.K. Sem'ja i jejo funkcii (Family and Its Functions). Moscow, Statistika, 1975, p. 44; Narodonaselenie. Enciklopedicheskij slovar', p. 429.

*Other families: two or more married couples with or without children, with or without parents; sisters and brothers without spouses and without children, etc.

Marital Status and Living Arrangements

As a consequence of the freedom of procreative choice and matrimonial mobility, the range of living arrangement possibilities has grown and produced marked changes in the whole process of family formation and dissolution, including marriage and cohabitation, divorce and remarriage, childbearing, and separation of children from the parental family, etc.

First marriages have not changed much. In contrast to most Western countries, early and almost universal marriages have always been typical for Russia. Now as before, almost all men and women in each generation get married eventually. According to the 1979 Census, only 1.9 percent of men and 4 percent of women aged 45-49 were never married. According to the 1989 Census, the respective figures were 3.7 and 3.5 percent--even lower than at the beginning of the century.

Contrary to what has been observed in recent years in the majority of developed countries, in Russia the proportion of people getting married at young ages has been growing. In the cohort born in 1925-1929, 12.9 percent of women married before age 20, and 24.2 percent of men married before age 23. The proportions for the cohort born in 1955-1959 were 31.9 percent and 48.9 percent, respectively. The average age at marriage (if we disregard the perturbations provoked by the wars and other social cataclysms, whose effects have basically disappeared by now) has remained practically unchanged since the late 19th century: 24.2 years for men and 21.4 for women in 1897; 24.4 and 21.8 respectively in 1989.

In the period between 1959 and 1979, the proportion of men and women aged 20-24 years who were married increased significantly (see Table 1.8). However, the proportion of both men and women who were currently married was decreasing over the entire 1959-94 period in almost every other age group. The differences between proportions of married men and women, which become more distinct with age, are due to a higher probability of remarriage for men, as well as to an important difference between life expectancies of men and women, resulting in a large number of widows.

Table 1.8

Number Currently Married by Age and Sex, 1959-1989, Per 1,000 Persons of Every Sex and Age Group

Age Males Females
1959 1970 1979 1989 1994 1959 1970 1979 1989 1994
16+ 692 716 708 718 723 505 563 569 598 585
16-17 4 4 \ \ 5 24 20 \ \ 38
251 291 1121 1301
18-19 38 40 / / 63 143 159 / / 237
20-24 269 297 395 381 383 479 536 595 618 565
25-29 802 771 775 742 712 752 819 793 798 751
30-34 921 878 850 821 805 768 848 817 822 799
35-39 953 924 874 840 837 711 838 810 804 797
40-44 963 942 894 845 \ 606 783 795 772 \
8532 7572
45-49 965 949 915 847 / 525 708 758 737 /
50-54 958 952 924 863 \ 452 588 683 708 \
8623 6623
55-59 946 949 927 880 / 392 478 571 636 /
60-64 \ \ 919 878 \ \ \ 427 532 \
9084 9254 8594 3324 3424 4964
65-69 / / 901 863 / / / 315 399 /
70+ 718 771 782 748 694 158 176 153 162 184

116-19; 240-49; 350-59; 460-69

SOURCES: Naselenie Rossii 1994, p. 51; Osnovnye itogi microperepisi naselenia 1994, p.38.

In recent years in Russia, cohabitation has become more and more frequent (though the levels are lower than in the West[5]), and more tolerated by public opinion. In a 1989 poll,[6] 22.5 percent of interviewed respondents said that they felt that cohabitation without official registration is unacceptable, but the proportion of such answers was strongly related to age: 47.3 percent for the respondents over age 60 disapproved of cohabitation, while only 13.8 percent under age 20 disapproved. The same poll showed that persons with a higher education were more tolerant of unregistered unions.[7] An increased tolerance for non-traditional family forms was accompanied, nonetheless, by an acknowledgment that the family represents one of the most important values: 89.5 percent of all respondents preferred to marry and to live in a family. Public opinion is much more tolerant of unregistered unions than of conscious childlessness.[8]

The 1994 micro-census has made it possible for the first time to estimate (although these rates may be underreported in the survey) the proportion of persons living in cohabitation (Table 1.9). In the aggregate, this proportion is higher for men than for women; however, below age 25, women are more likely to cohabit than men. The difference between men and women at these younger ages is especially marked for the rural population.

Table 1.9

Cohabitation By Age and Sex, Per 1,000, 1994

Males Females
Age Total Urban Rural Total Urban Rural
16 and older 47 41 64 39 34 54
16-19 5 5 5 19 16 30
20-24 30 29 32 38 36 45
25-29 44 42 49 44 42 50
30-34 50 47 60 47 42 60
35-39 53 47 69 48 42 70
40-49 56 47 84 49 41 82
50-59 62 51 91 46 38 71
60-69 52 43 72 34 27 50
70 and over 41 32 64 15 12 21

SOURCE: Osnovnye itogimicroperepisi naselenia 1994, p. 38.

Family dissolution as a consequence of widowhood and divorce has changed dramatically over the past years. As in earlier years, the death of a spouse was the main cause of family dissolution for elderly people. But for younger people, the role of this factor is much less significant than before. By contrast, the probability of divorce has grown dramatically. At the beginning of the century, the divorce rate and even the absolute number of divorces were negligible. Later, they began to grow rapidly. Since the late 1970s, the divorce rate has been relatively stable, but at the relatively high level of about 4 divorces per 1,000 population (see Table 1.10). (These trends are very similar to those in the U.S. and other Western countries.[9]) Since 1990 there has been a slight increase in the divorce rate in Russia.

Table 1.10

Marriages and Divorces, 1950-1994

Year Marriages (in thousands) Divorces (in thousands) Marriage Rate (per 1,000 population) Divorce Rate (per 1,000 population)
1950 1223.0 49.4 12.0 0.5
1960 1499.6 184.4 12.5 1.5
1970 1319.2 396.6 10.1 3.0
1980 1464.6 580.7 10.6 4.2
1985 1389.4 574.0 9.7 4.0
1986 1417.5 579.4 9.8 4.0
1987 1442.6 580.1 9.9 4.0
1988 1397.4 573.9 9.5 3.9
1989 1384.3 582.5 9.4 3.9
1990 1319.9 559.9 8.9 3.8
1991 1277.2 597.9 8.6 4.0
1992 1053.7 639.2 7.1 4.3
1993 1106.7 663.3 7.5 4.5
1994 1080.6 680.5 7.4 4.6

SOURCES: Naselenie SSSR 1987 (Population of the USSR 1987). Statistical yearbook. Moscow, Finansy i Statistika, 1988, p. 190; Demograficheskij ezhegodnik Rossijskoj Federacii 1993 (The Demographic Yearbook of the Russian Federation 1993). Moscow, Goskomstat of Russia, 1994, p. 97.

Divorces, like widowhood in the past, are partly compensated by remarriage, and the compensatory role of remarriage is growing. The proportion of divorced among those getting married has risen from 16.1 percent in 1980 to 23.2 percent in 1993 for men, and from 14.3 percent to 21.3 percent for women (Table 1.11). Children are becoming less and less an obstacle either for divorce or for remarriage (Table 1.12). This also means that a greater number of children are experiencing the divorce of their parents.

Table 1.11

Percentage of Remarried to All Getting Married, 1980-1993

Males Females
Year Remarried Remarried After Divorce Remarried Remarried After Divorce
1980 18.9 16.1 17.9 14.3
1985 23.8 20.7 24.6 20.1
1986 26.2 23.0 27.0 22.2
1987 27.8 24.6 27.8 22.9
1988 27.7 24.5 27.7 22.9
1989 26.6 23.5 26.3 21.7
1990 25.3 22.3 24.6 20.4
1991 25.7 22.7 25.2 20.9
1992 26.8 23.7 25.6 21.4
1993 26.0 23.2 25.3 21.3

Table 1.12

Divorces, by Number of Common Children Under 18, 1988-1993 (in thousands)

Year Total Number of Divorces Divorces of Spouses Total Number of Common Children Average Number of Common Children Per Divorce
Without Children With One Child With 2 or More Children Total Divorces With Children Divorces With Two or More Children
1988 573.8 223.5 251.1 99.3 465.1 1.3 2.2
1989 582.5 223.6 253.1 105.8 479.1 1.3 2.2
1990 559.9 214.3 239.6 106.1 466.1 1.3 2.1
1991 597.9 215.1 261.2 121.3 522.2 1.4 2.1
1992 639.2 223.6 282.9 132.8 569.1 1.4 2.2
1993 663.3 229.7 294.8 138.8 593.8 1.4 2.2
1994 680.5 230.9 307.9 141.7 613.4 1.4 2.2

NOTE: Sources: Sem'ia v Rossijskoj Federacii (Family in the Russian Federation). Goskomstat Rossii, Moscow, 1994, p 88.

The Russian population is increasingly abandoning a tradition of maintaining large, extended families--a family form that was quite common in the past. As economic and other incentives to preserve extended families disappear, the process of splitting-up the family has intensified due, in particular, to the separation of young families from their parents. The majority of young married couples desire to live apart from their parents. Those living with their parents generally want to live separately, and those already separated do not want to join them again.[10] In actual practice, the process of separation is somewhat retarded by difficulties in obtaining separate housing.

According to evidence compiled by Volkov regarding the early 1980s, 35.1 percent of men and 35.6 percent of women who lived with their parents prior to marriage moved away from their parents immediately after marriage (the corresponding figures for 1989 were 37.1 percent and 38.3 percent respectively).[11] Furthermore, Volkov estimates that, based on the results of the 1989 census, 59 percent of young families separated from their parents during the first 10 years of marriage. Since another 16 percent of such families broke up over this period, only 25 percent of young families are still intact and living with the husband's or wife's parents after 10 years of marriage.[12] These data apply to the entire ex-USSR. In Russia, as in the other European republics of the ex-USSR, the process of separation was more pronounced, especially among the urban population. The frequency of separation from the parental family in the nuptial cohort is particularly high during the first year of marriage, decreases later on and flattens out at a level of 4-5 percent per year during the second decade of married life.[13]

According to the results of a sample survey of young families carried out in 1992,[14] 51 percent of the young couples who were surveyed lived independently from their parents; the rest were living together with the husband's or wife's parents or other relatives. It should be noted that 61 percent of young families living with their relatives had an independent or a partly independent budget, and 31 percent had a common budget.

Fertility and Family Planning

Throughout most of the world, the process of modernization of the family has been accompanied by fundamental changes in people's procreative behavior. Beginning in the late 1920s, fertility rapidly declined due to the broadening scope of procreative choice,[15] on the one hand, and to the difficult, sometimes even catastrophic, social and political conditions of the 1930s and 1940s, on the other. This same process did not occur in the USSR. The general fertility level was relatively high in the 1950s compared with that in many European countries due to Russia's young population. Soviet official sources cited this high fertility rate as an example of the advantages inherent to a socialist society.

Nevertheless, the decline in fertility, being a natural consequence of the demographic transition, persisted. The dynamics of the total fertility rate (TFR)[16] gives an idea of the size of this reduction. In 1959-1960, the total fertility rate in Russia was 2.6 (the level of France at that time; in the United States it was 3.7). In the next decade it quickly fell, and then stabilized. From the mid-1960s, the TFR stayed close to 2.0. Its fluctuations in the 1980s were more dramatic. In 1979-1980, the TFR was at its lowest point of the postwar years (1.89). In 1986-1987, it jumped 2.20, the highest level since 1961. In 1990, it fell again to 1.89, and then plummeted to 1.73 in 1991, 1.55 in 1992, and 1.39 in 1993 (see Table 1.13 and Figure 1.1). Similar patterns are seen in both urban and rural areas, though urban fertility rates are always considerably lower than rural rates.

Table 1.13

Total Fertility Rate, 1961-1994

Year Total Urban Rural
1961-1962 2.419 1.926 3.180
1965-1966 2.123 1.719 3.001
1970-1971 2.017 1.767 2.657
1975-1976 1.973 1.723 2.838
1980-1981 1.875 1.667 2.636
1985-1986 2.106 1.863 3.051
1987 2.219 1.974 3.187
1988 2.130 1.896 3.057
1989 2.016 1.829 2.697
1990 1.895 1.700 2.606
1991 1.732 1.540 2.384
1992 1.552 1.362 2.176
1993 1.385 1.215 1.935
1994 1.386 1.243 1.842

NOTE: Naselenie Rossii 1994, p. 62; Demograficheskij ezhegodnik Rossijskoj Federacii 1993, p. 74; unpublished data of Goskomstat.


Figure 1.1--Age-Specific Fertility Rates and Total Fertility Rate in Russia, 1959-1994

Public opinion in Russia has tended to attribute such an unprecedented decline in fertility to the direct influence of the social and economic crisis of the last few years. However, even if such an influence does exist, it is likely that other factors have contributed to, and are perhaps much more significant determinants of, the phenomenon of fertility decline. The universal trends of demographic transition associated with the modernization of the family and society have played a leading role, and served to draw the Russian and Western models of procreative behavior in the family closer to one another. During several decades in the middle of the 20th century, Russia followed the path already traversed by the developed countries. Russia did it at an accelerated pace, and in the 1970s attained the same fertility level as many of the Western countries. In terms of fertility trends and indices, Russia in this period resembled the Western countries of an earlier demographic transition, but twenty years later Russia more closely resembled the countries of the more recent transition (Figures 1.2a and 1.2b). This seems to be quite natural because the transition in Russia was also rather late.


Figure 1.2a--Total Fertility Rate in Russia and Selected Western Countries, 1950-1993, Russia and Countries of Earlier Demographic Transition


Figure 1.2b--Total Fertility Rate in Russia and Selected Western Countries, 1950-1993, Russia and Countries of More Recent Demographic Transition

In the 1990s fertility has declined in all age groups of women, even the youngest (under 20), in which fertility had been steadily rising between 1963 and 1990. In all age groups except the youngest, the fertility rate is lower now than at any time in the entire postwar period (Figure 1.1).

The fertility decline of recent years (after 1987) is due in part to factors that were not connected with the long-run transition, but which are not necessarily connected to the short-term crisis, either. Among other factors, the fertility decline is due to the timing effects which revealed themselves in the 1980s. In this period, cross-sectional fertility indices increased due to the policy measures of the early 1980s (discussed in the paper by Zakharov and Ivanova in this volume), but it did not lead to a corresponding increase in the cohort indices. The age at which women gave birth to "planned" children decreased, but this did not lead to an increase in the average number of births per woman in different cohorts. Consequently, the increase in the total fertility rate was bound to be followed by a decline. In all likelihood, this was indeed the case in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Moreover, the timing effects were accompanied by other factors that existed before but became more visible under the influence of reforms carried out in Russia. The paternalistic-state mechanisms regulating people's economic, social, and demographic behavior have weakened and given way to market mechanisms. This means that great numbers of families have had to adapt their current plans to the new conditions, while extending their material and ideological capabilities for such adaptation. In terms of demographic behavior, Russia is drawing closer to the countries with market economies.

At the same time, the Russian model of procreative behavior still differs from the Western one in important features. For example, in contrast to recent developments in most Western countries, the decrease in TFR in Russia was accompanied by a simultaneous decrease in the age at marriage and at birth. The average age at first marriage decreased, and the average age at birth, after an increase in the late 1980s, resumed its decline (Figure 1.3). The proportion of children born by women under 18 has increased from 1.8 percent in 1980 to 2.0 percent in 1988 and to 4.2 percent in 1992. Recently, evidence for abandonment of this model of procreative behavior has appeared, leading some experts to suggest that Russia is involved in a "second demographic transition."[17]


Figure 1.3--Fertility Decline and Evolution of Mean Age of Mother

Another important feature of fertility in Russia concerns birth control methods. In Russia, contrary to most countries that have already passed through the demographic transition, induced abortion remains one of the main methods of family planning. There is usually a limited selection of contraceptives in Russia. They are in short supply and have recently became very expensive. Although, according to official data the absolute number of abortions and the average number per woman tended to decline during the last decade (Table 1.14), a cautionary note is appropriate as data concerning registered abortions have become increasingly incomplete for a variety of reasons. Even so, according to official figures, the proportion of conceptions ending in abortion have been increasing as has the number of abortions per 100 live births since 1985 (Table 1.14). In 1993, in Russia more than 3.2 million abortions (88 per 1,000 women ages 15-49, or 235 per 100 live births) were officially registered. The respective indices in other countries are as follows: Ukraine, 57 and 164; Estonia, 64 and 117; Hungary, 38 and 72; Sweden, 20 and 30; France, 13 and 21; and the Netherlands, 5 and 20.[18]

Table 1.14

Registered Abortions in Russia, 1970-1993

Year 1970 1980 1985 1990 1991 1992 1993
Number of abortions, in thousands:
- Total 4,670. 4,506. 4,415 3,920 3,526 3,266 3,244
- Without "mini-abortions"* n.a n.a n.a. 2,968 2,678 2,409 2,447
Abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-49:
- Total 133.3. 122.9 120.4 108.9 98.0 90.3 88.4
- Without "mini-abortions" n.a n.a. n.a. 82.5 74.0 66.6 66.7
Abortions per 100 live births
- Total 245.3 204.6 185.9 197.1 196.4 205.7 235.2
- Without "mini-abortions" n.a. n.a n.a. 149.2 149.2 151.7 177.4

NOTE: Naselenie Rossii 1994, p. 73; unpublished data of Goskomstat.

*Mini-abortions are abortions by aspiration.

Moreover, there are no signs of serious changes in the attitude of the population to abortions. According to the results of a poll carried out by the National Center for the Study of Public Opinion in April 1994, the answers to the question "What would you do in case of unplanned pregnancy?" had the following distribution: "Would keep the baby"--13 percent; "Would have an abortion"--40 percent; "Don't know"--47 percent. The readiness to have an abortion was the same for both urban and rural dwellers. The question appeared to be too embarrassing to 51 percent of the respondents claiming adherence to the Orthodox religion and to 71 percent of religious Muslims; they answered, "I hardly know what to answer."[19]

Fertility Decline and Slower Population Growth

The demographic transition in Russia was not accompanied by a demographic explosion, as was the case in most countries where demographic modernization took place comparatively late. Until the early 1960s the total fertility rate in Russia exceeded 2.5, and the rate of natural increase was relatively high (1.7-1.8 percent per year until 1991). This natural increase was the main factor determining the growth of the population over the entire post-war period (Table 1.15 and Figure 1.4). But the decline of fertility long ago predetermined the cessation of this growth.

Table 1.15

Components of Population Size Change in Russia, 1951-1994

Year Population at the End of Period in 1,000s Annual Rate of Increase Per 1,000 Total Increase in 1,000s Natural Increase in 1,000s Net Immigration in 1,000s
1951-1955 112,266 17.5 9,321 9,160 161
1956-1960 120,766 14.7 8,500 9,515 -1,015
1961-1965 127,189 10.4 6,423 7,067 -644
1966-1970 130,704 5.5 3,515 4,180 -665
1971-1975 134,690 6.0 3,986 4,180 -195
1976-1980 139,165 6.6 4,338 3,730 607
1981-1985 144,080 7.0 4,807 3,939 869
1986-1990 148,543 6.1 4,707 3,649 1,058
1991 148,704 1.1 161 104 57
1992 148,673 -0.2 -31 -207 176
1993 148,366 -2.1 -308 -738 430
1994 148,306 -0.4 -60 -870 810

NOTE: Naselenie SSSR 1973 (Population of the USSR 1973). Statistical yearbook. Moscow, Statistika, 1975, p. 70; Demograficheskij ezhegodnik Rossijskoj Federacii 1993, p. 10; unpublished data of Goskomstat.


Figure 1.4--Population Increase By Components in Russia, 1950-1993

From the beginning of the 1930s demographic modernization accelerated in Russia, and 30 years later the country entered a period of hidden depopulation. None of the post-war generations of women in Russia have provided replacement-level fertility. Throughout the period beginning in the middle of the 1960s to the present (excepting 1986-1988), the net reproduction rate in the Russian Federation has been less than 1. [20] In the early 1990s, its decline became sharper. In 1990 it reached the all-time low of 0.821 (the previous minimum value of 0.874 was attained in 1979-1980) and continued to fall to 0.733 in 1992 and to 0.651 in 1993 (Figure 1.5). The net reproduction rate has always been higher in rural than in urban areas, but even in the former its value is now less than 1.0 (Figure 1.5).


Figure 1.5--Net Reproduction Rate in Russia, 1959-1994

The fact that the rate of natural increase was positive during almost this entire period (mid-1960s to the early 1990s) was due only to the potential of demographic growth accumulated in the age structure of the population. This potential has been gradually exhausted, and finally the hidden depopulation became apparent and the rate of natural increase has become negative. [21] This was no surprise at all. Forecasts made in the early 1980s predicted the appearance of a negative natural increase beyond any doubt, though it was supposed to not appear until the beginning of the next century. But even then it was clear that the only way to prevent an overall decrease in the population of Russia was through immigration. In those forecasts it was assumed that the migrating population would come from other republics of the USSR.

The effective influence of immigration on the total population increase in Russia was quite small for a long time. From 1955 to 1975, the population increase due to external migration was negative, but this decrease was more than offset by natural population increase (Table 1.15). Beginning in the middle of the 1970s, the increase due to net immigration became positive but, as a rule, never exceeded 25 percent of the total increase and usually was considerably smaller. Since 1990, the absolute annual population increase due to immigration was smaller than in the late 1980s but, owing to the drop in natural increase, its proportion to the total increase has grown. When, in 1992, the natural increase changed into natural decrease, net immigration was unable to make up for it (Table 1.15 and Figure 1.4). The total rate of population growth, as well as the rate of natural increase, became negative and the population size in Russia began to decrease.

Looking Into the Future

What changes await Russia in the next 10-20 years? The answer can be found in the demographic forecasts made in recent years by several Moscow research centers and organizations abroad. The following results are taken from those forecasts.[22] Although general demographic dynamics are determined by changes in fertility, mortality, and net immigration, the changes in the first two components appear to have had only a slight influence on the growth of the population and the evolution of its age structure.

Fertility. Even though the estimates given in the considered forecasts are very different, none of them predicts an increase in the total fertility rate from the 1993 level (1.39) that will be large enough for the TFR to reach the replacement level over the next 20 years (Table 1.16). Nevertheless, the number of births should have significantly increased already beginning in 1995, since in this period the number of women in the age group with the highest fertility (20-34 years) will grow rapidly. Later, a decrease in the number of births will occur again as a consequence of cyclic dynamics of the size of female generations due to an "echo" from World War II ( Figures 1.6 and 1.7).[23]

Table 1.16

Total Fertility Rate, Various Forecasts to 2015

Source Forecast Type Year 2000 Year 2005 Year 2015
DD ISER, 1993: High Variant - - 1.88
Medium Variant - - 1.67
Low Variant 1.47 - -
CEC, 1994: Medium Variant 1.11 1.20 -
Low Variant 0.94 0.89 -
CEC, 1995: Medium Variant 1.25 1.34 -
Low Variant 1.07 1.02 -
CDHE, 1994: High Variant 1.62 1.68 1.74
Medium Variant 1.58 1.60 1.59
Low Variant 1.54 1.52 1.43
U.S. Census Bureau, 1994: 1.80 1.80 1.70
United Nations, 1994: High Variant 1.65 1.85 1.95
Medium Variant 1.53 1.60 1.67
Low Variant 1.50 1.50 1.50

NOTE: For abbreviations and sources, see footnote 25.


Figure 1.6--Number of Births and Number of Women of Selected Age Groups, Russia, 1994-2015, Forecast of the Center for Demography and Human Ecology, Medium Variant


Figure 1.7--Number of Births in Russia, Real Evolution in 1959-1993 and Forecast of the Center for Demography and Human Ecology for 1992-2015, Medium Variant

Mortality. If the fertility forecasts generally predict the prevalence of trends which converge with those in the West, the mortality forecasts tend to forecast the maintenance of current differences. All existing forecasts are very pessimistic. Even in the most favorable scenarios, assuming a considerable improvement in current Russian indices (in 1993 the life expectancy was 58.9 years for males and 71.9 years for females), it is not generally assumed that the present level for Western countries (life expectancy of 72-75 years for males and 78-81 years for females) will be attained in Russia even in 10-20 years (Table 1.17).[24]

Table 1.17

Evolution of Life Expectancy, Various Forecasts to the Year 2015

Year 2000 2005 2015
Source of Forecasts Males Females Males Females Males Females
DD ISER, 1993 - - - - 70.2 78.3
Andreev et al, 1993 63.0 73.2 - - 64.9 74.3
CEC, 1994 58.7 70.1 59.6 70.7 - -
CEC, 1995 58.8 70.2 59.6 70.9 - -
CDHE, 1994 62.3 73.6 64.1 74.5 67.6 76.2
UN, 1994 61.5 73.6 63.5 74.6 67.0 76.4

NOTE: For abbreviations and sources, see footnote 25.

External Migration. The fertility and mortality forecasts presented above do not leave much hope for a positive natural population increase in Russia for the foreseeable future (Figure 1.8). Consequently, positive growth of the population in Russia is possible only with a steady and high positive balance of external migration. But we should keep in mind that uncertainty is especially significant in the migration forecasts, so that scenarios of the future considerably differ among them (Table 1.18).


Figure 1.8--Number of Births, Number of Deaths, and Natural Increase in Russia, Real Evolution in 1959-1993 and Forecast of the Center for Demography and Human Ecology for 1994-2015, Medium Variant

Table 1.18

Annual Net Immigration, Various Forecasts to the Year 2015 (thousands of persons)

Year Forecast Type 2000 2005 2015
RF Goskomstat, 1993: High Variant 278 154 -11
Medium Variant 213 142 34
Low Variant -1.8 12.2 16.4
CEC, 1994 - 173 74 -
CEC, 1995 - 29.5 117 -
CDHE, 1994: High Variant 507 515 473
Medium Variant 373 313 142
Low Variant 0 0 0

NOTE: For abbreviations and sources, see footnote 25.

Hypotheses concerning future immigration depend highly on estimates of current trends. Today, positive net immigration (the difference between immigration and emigration) is growing. In 1994, 1.1 million persons arrived in Russia (compared with 0.7-0.9 million annually during the previous 25 years) and 0.2 million left Russia (compared with 0.5-0.7 million previously). So the net migration figure was about 0.8 million (mainly in exchange with Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and especially Kazakhstan)[25]--an unusually high number for Russia. This can be considered as a manifestation of the present social and political crisis. If so, overcoming the crisis is likely to lead to a drop in net migration to the level of the 1980s. But bearing in mind new demographic and political realities, one can take a different view of future development of external migration.

According to estimates of the Center for Demography and Human Ecology (CDHE) of the Institute of Economic Forecasting, assuming the most realistically optimistic scenarios for fertility and mortality along with moderate net immigration,[26] by 2010 the Russian population will reach the level of the early 1990s, after a twenty-year period of decline. For the population size to exceed the 1990 level by the middle of the first decade of the 21st century and continue to grow, one needs to assume high net immigration, constantly maintained at a level of about half a million persons per year (Figure 1.9), in combination with the optimistic scenarios of fertility and mortality. Thus, for the stage of development that Russia has entered, the current high level of immigration cannot be considered a crisis, but as normal and even desirable from the point of view of overall demographic dynamics.


Figure 1.9--Net Immigration to Russia, Real Evolution in 1959-1993 and Forecast of the Center for Demography and Human Ecology for 1994-2015, High and Medium Variants

Population Size. In conclusion, we provide a summary of forecasts of the population size in Russia up to the year 2015, made by different research groups (Table 1.19). The reader should note that the forecasts vary from a low of 137,500,000 persons to a high of 159,300,000. (The population in Russia at the beginning of 1995 was 148,306,000.) Some forecasts of the evolution of population size in Russia, carried out by the Center for Demography and Human Ecology, are presented in Figures 1.10 and 1.11.

Table 1.19

Population of Russia, Various Forecasts to the Year 2015 (in millions)

Source Forecast Type 2000 2005 2015
RF Goskomstat, 1993: High Variant 150.0a 152.4b 153.7c
Medium Variant 150.0a 150.2b 148.9c
Low Variant 150.4a 149.3b 143.8c
CEC, 1994 Medium Variant 142.7 138.7 -
Low Variant 139.3 131.5 -
CEC, 1995 Medium Variant 145.7 142.8 -
Low Variant 143.0 136.0 -
CDHE, 1994
A) Zero immigration scenario High Variant 143.4 142.8 142.4
Medium Variant 143.2 142.1 139.9
Low Variant 143.0 141.3 137.5
B) Medium immigration scenario High Variant 145.8 147.0 148.6
Medium Variant 145.6 146.2 146.0
Low Variant 145.4 145.5 143.4
C) High immigration scenario High Variant 146.4 148.3 152.8
Medium Variant 146.2 147.5 150.1
Low Variant 146.0 146.8 147.5
U.S. Census Bureau, 1994 151.5 155.9d 159.3e
United Nations, 1994 High Variant 146.3 146.1 146.6
Medium Variant 145.5 144.2 142.0
Low Variant 145.2 143.8 140.1

NOTE: a2002; b2007; c2017; d2010; e2020. For abbreviations and sources, see footnote 25.


Figure 1.10--Various Estimates of the Population of Russia, 1994-2015, Forecast of the Center for Demography and Human Ecology, Scenarios With Medium and High Migration


Figure 1.11--Various Estimates of the Population of Russia, 1959-2015, Real Evolution in 1959-1993 and Forecast of the Center for Demography and Human Ecology for 1994-2015, Scenarios With Medium and High Migration


From the beginning of the 1990s, population growth or even preservation of constant population size in Russia is possible only on the condition that annual net immigration is steady and sizable (at least 500,000 per year). This situation is absolutely new for Russia. In the course of many centuries, Russia has typically sent population beyond the limits of historical Russian territory. Centrifugal migration flows were the condition sine qua non of the colonization of new regions of the Russian and Soviet empire.

Though the current situation is a result of a long-run and, by and large, normal evolution, under actual political circumstances public opinion has interpreted it as something disastrous. Warnings of "the family crisis," a "demographic catastrophe," a "demographic tragedy," the "extinction of the Russian people," and so on, are often heard. The negative opinions concerning the changes in demographic and family spheres are being exploited by anti-reformists who consider these changes to be nothing but unfavorable consequences of unneeded or unsuccessful reforms. If some crisis features are present in the demographic development of Russia, they are likely to be due precisely to a delay in implementing reforms, for example, reform of the health care system. This delay hampers adaptation of social institutions to the new realities of demographic and family behavior. But these realities themselves are the natural consequence of a contradictory, catch-up, Russian and Soviet style of modernization.

This modernization has constantly created and still is creating an inner resistance, but in the end it steadily advances. As this takes place, existing problems are solved, but new ones arise. While the new demographic realities make their way in Russia, the country faces the same challenges as most industrial nations (danger of depopulation, population aging, fragility of families, etc.). Since it is not possible to avoid them, we need to find adequate answers to these challenges.

Discussants' Comments

Discussants: Julie DaVanzo, RAND; and Ward Kingkade, U.S. Census Bureau

The discussants of Dr. Vishnevsky's paper pointed out that, even if the described processes are not defined as crises, they pose important questions. Russian demographic history has been strongly affected by a series of political cataclysms, and the current political situation may have a profound and long-lasting effect on demographic trends. The current socio-economic situation in Russia is unique and the interaction between demographic, economic, and political factors should be thoroughly studied. This research will require new, high quality demographic data. The accuracy of the existing data should also be carefully assessed.

The discussants also noted the similarities of many Russian demographic patterns and trends to those in the United States (e.g., high rates of female labor force participation, long-term increases in divorce, increases in cohabitation, and relatively high rates of immigration). They also commented that demographic research in Russia could probably benefit from U.S. research on such issues as teenage pregnancy, the effect of women's labor force participation and divorce on the well-being of children, and the effects of immigration on the economy and society.


[1] Dr. Anatoly G. Vishnevsky is Director of the Center for Demography and Human Ecology, Institute for Economic Forecasting, Russian Academy of Sciences.

[2] The Soviet censuses did not permit one to distinguish one-person households. They provided three choices: "living together with family"; "living separately with family but linked with it by a common budget"; and "singles"; that is those who do not have a family or do not maintain economic relations with it. Those who opted for the second or third choice were sometimes lumped together as "singles" in reports of census results. See, for example, A. G. Volkov, Sem'ja - objekt demografii (Family as a Subject Matter of Demography), Moscow, 1986, p. 27, 49.

[3] Vassilieva, E. K., Sem'ja i jeje funkcii (Family and Its Functions), Moscow, 1975, pp. 34-35.

[4] The main results of the 1994 micro-census of the population. Moscow, Goskomstat, 1994, p. 71. The census was conducted on February 14-23, 1994, in all regions of the Russian Federation, except Chechnya, and covered 5 percent of the population (7.3 million people).

[5] For example, see review in Julie DaVanzo and M. Oman Rahman, American Families: Trends and Policy Issues, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND, P-7859, 1993.

[6] "The family in a mirror of public opinion." A representative poll, conducted in 1989 by the National (former All-Union) Public Opinion Center (VTSIOM) in 51 cities of the ex-USSR, covering 3,014 persons over age 16.

[7] M. Matskovksi and V. Bodrova, Cenost' sem'ji v soznanii razlichnykh slojov naseleniya. (Value of the Family as Perceived by Various Strata of the Population). In: Sem'ja v predstavlenijakh sovremennogo cheloveka (Family in Perception of a Modern Man). Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Moscow, 1990, p. 163.

[8] Ibid., pp. 157, 165.

[9] DaVanzo and Rahman, op. cit.

[10] Volkov, Sem'ja - objekt demografii, p. 219.

[11] Volkov, Sem'ja - objekt demografii, p. 202; Volkov A.G. Nuklearizacija sem'ji v Sovetskom Soyuze i otdelenie molodykh sem'jej ot roditeljej (Nuclearization of the family in the USSR and separation of the young families from their parents). In: Vosproizvodstvo naselenija i razvitije sem'ji. (Population Reproduction and Family Evolution), Moscow, 1992, p. 27.

[12] Volkov, Sem'ja - objekt demografii, p. 203, 216.

[13] Volkov, Nuklearizacija sem'ji v Sovetskom Soyuze, p. 29.

[14] The survey, "Perspectives of Developments of the Young Family," was carried out by the State Committee of the Russian Federation for Statistics (Goskomstat) in December 1992. It covered 14,000 persons in young families (first marriages contracted under age 25 which lasted from 1 to 5 years) in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and in 21 regions and autonomous republics of the Russian Federation.

[15] Religious and moral proscriptions against the use of abortion and contraception were rapidly disappearing, especially in cities.

[16] Total fertility rate is defined as the average number of children a woman would have over her lifetime, given current levels of age-specific fertility rates.

[17] See paper by Zakharov and Ivanova in this volume.

[18] For further discussion of abortion in Russia, see Popov's paper in this volume.

[19] Ekonomicheskie i socialnye peremeny: monitoring obshchestvennogo mnenija (Economic and Social Changes: the Public Opinion Monitoring ), Moscow, 1994, 4, p. 39.

[20] The net reproduction rate is the TFR multiplied by a survival probability (from the mother's birth through her childbearing years) and the proportion of female to all births. A net reproduction rate of 1.0 means that the population is exactly reproducing itself.

[21] Population age structure and population growth are the topic of the paper by Vassin in this volume.

[22] The forecasts were made by the Demographic Department of the Institute of Statistics and Economic Research of the Goskomstat (DD ISER), the Center of Economic Conjuncture attached to the Government of the Russian Federation (CEC), and the Center for Demography and Human Ecology of the Institute for Economic Forecasting of the Russian Academy of Sciences (CDHE). Except for the CDHE forecast, the results are quoted from the following sources: Andreev E.M., Darsky L.E., Khar'kova T.L., Naselenie SSSR: 1922-1991 (Population of the USSR: 1922-1991); Demograficheskie perspectivy Rossii (Demographic Pespectives of Russia), Moscow, Goscomstat, 1993; Prognoz chislennosti nasselenia do 2005 goda (Population Forecast up to 2005), Moscow, Center of Economic Conjuncture attached to the Government of the Russian Federation, 1994; Prognoz chislennosti naselenia do 2005 goda (Population Forecast up to 2005), Moscow, Center of Economic Conjuncture, 1995; World Population Profile: 1994, Washington, U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, 1994.

[23] For more on the age structure in Russia and how it has changed over time, see the paper by Vassin in this volume.

[24] For more on life expectancy in Russia, see the paper by Sholnikov and MeslŽ in this volume.

[25] Naselenie Rossii 1994. (Population of Russia 1995.) The third annual demographic report of the Center for Demography and Human Ecology, ed. by A. Vishnevsky, Moscow, 1996, pp. 79-80.

[26] It should be noted that the CDHE moderate net migration assumption considerably exceeds Goskomstat's "High" variant, referred to in Table 1.18.