Russia's population politics

A new study by the International Laboratory on Political Demography and Social Macro-Dynamics in Moscow suggests that Russia is experiencing a massive increase in its fertility rate:

The demographic situation in Russia has improved markedly in recent years. This is in large part due to the successful implementation of policy measures to support fertility, reduce harmful alcohol consumption, and improve the health care system. In 2006-2012 Russia recorded the fastest increase in total fertility rate (TFR) in Europe, and the second fastest in the world. TFR rose from 1.3 to 1.7 children per woman (30% increase).

Not so fast.  One must be very cautious believing politically oriented data coming out of Russia.

Some in the mainstream media regurgitate these Russian “facts” as if they are gospel, yet even a cursory review of Russia’s population data over the past decade raises serious question.  We have no idea as to what this country’s real population is or where it is headed.

Not unexpectedly, given the nature of this authoritarian state, the report from Moscow reads like a promotional piece for Vladimir Putin.  It is littered with favorable quotes from him, as well as discussions of his population policies and efforts to increase Russia’s fertility rate:

At present, Russian demographic policy is defined by a number of statutory acts. The basic document is the Concept of Demographic Policy of the Russian Federation for the Period up to 2025 approved by Order of the President of the Russian Federation No. 1351 of 9 October 2007. The adoption of the Concept reversed the trend of the state policy in Russia, positioning the state strongly towards supporting demographic growth ...

We believe the most important policy actions in regard to fertility were mentioned in the State of the Nation Address by Russian President Vladimir Putin (12 December 2012): these are to create favorable conditions for combining motherhood and professional activity, to develop the childcare and pre-school education system and to provide housing support to families with children.

The report actually undersells Russia’s purported fertility rate performance since 2006.  If we include 2013 data, the fertility rate increase in Russia from 2006 to 2013 is the highest in the world – by a substantial margin.

Russia’s world-leading fertility rate increase over the past seven years is 31 percent.  The nearest rival is Belarus at less than 26 percent.  In fact, the gap between Russia and second-place Belarus is larger than the gap between any other rank neighbors in the top 196 countries.  Conveniently “successful” data given Putin’s stated policy objectives over this period?

However, the Moscow authors see no reason to doubt the data quality:

Following some slowdown in 2008-2011, an upsurge in fertility observed in 2012 confirmed the efficiency of the newly introduced measures. Unfortunately, this phenomenon has remained understudied by sociologists and demographers so far. A tentative explanation links this resumed growth, which continues into 2013, with some regional measures such as land allocations after third childbirth, introduction of the regional maternity capital, and allowances to families with three or more children ... the support given to families with second and third children evidently resulted in a substantial increase in the birthrate after 2006, rather than merely a short-lived forward shift in birth-giving.

The report was clearly geared toward an international audience, given its presentation in well-written English – even though only 5 percent of Russians speak this language.

A good review of this demographic report also helps further debunk the strange belief in some conservative circles that Putin himself is some form of a social conservative.

Putin is not a proponent of conservative family values.  His policy approach instead is an EU model of daycares and two working parents whose incentives for having and raising children are born entirely from large government programs and wealth redistribution schemes (i.e., factory farm model of child production, not true traditional family values).  Putin’s demographic policies also rely heavily, in addition to child production subsidization, on social engineering mechanisms such as high alcohol/tobacco taxes and smoking bans, as well as massive increases in public health care spending.