Policy Implications and Consequences of the Demographic and Health Crises in Russia
Murray Feshbach, Senior Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center, and former Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center
"I hope that my calculations are wrong," began Murray Feshbach, Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, at a recent presentation at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Feshbach explained that the according to his research, the demographic and health situation in Russia is very serious. He noted that Russian official estimates show that the Russian population could decrease by nearly one-third by 2050. However, Feshbach contended, officials failed to consider the increasing rate of HIV and tuberculosis cases, as well as the spread of illness through reproductive health problems and rising infant mortality rates, all of which could have a major impact on the decreasing Russian population.
According to Feshbach, the availability of gathering demographic data has improved, yet questions remain about the quality of the data. He stated that underreporting and inconsistent census results have led to incorrect estimates about the seriousness of the health crisis. He cited the prevalence of HIV cases as one example of state underreporting. According to Feshbach, Russian officials recently reported that there were approximately 240,000 reported cases of HIV. In reality, Feshbach continued, there are somewhere between 700,000 and 1.2 million cases of HIV in Russia. Recent optimistic estimates from the World Bank and the Russian Ministry of Health project that by 2005, there will 1.2 million-2.2 million AIDS cases. He added that syphilis and tuberculosis cases range anywhere from 30 to 80 percent higher than reported. A recent child health survey regarding the health status of approximately 32 million children under the age of 18 found that at least 60 percent of those surveyed suffer from either chronic illnesses or dangerous pathologies.
Feshbach explained that the downturn in births from 2.5 million in 1987 to 1.2 million in 2002 has been a major factor in Russia's population decline. Simultaneous with the drop in births, Feshbach noted, there was major increase in mortality rates resulting in a ratio of nearly 2.3 million deaths to 1.4 million births. According to Feshbach, this trend is likely to continue and perhaps even worsen as the number of women 20-29 year-old females—the age at which nearly three-fourths of all births—declines. He warned that other reproductive problems caused by HIV, syphilis, and other STDs will have an effect on the reproductive health of Russian women.
Another drop in the life expectancy of Russian males also remains a key concern for international observers. Feshbach explained that the average life expectancy of Russian males is approximately 58 years, compared to the U.S. figure of 72 years. Another way to view this, he continued, is to consider that while 88-90 percent of all 16 year-old males in the U.S. live to the age of 60, in Russia only 55-60 percent live that long. He stated that with over 40 percent of all males dying between ages 16-59, economic productivity and worker output is severely limited.
Feshbach contended that many analysts and Russian leaders fail to recognize the seriousness of the problem because of their insistence to use Western European models, most of which don't apply to Russia, to predict demographic figures. He concluded by stating that the state's optimistic projections, which include high immigration, estimate a decline from 144 million to 123 million by 2050. However, he continued, immigration has not been extremely high, and the deaths from AIDS and other sicknesses have not been taken into account, which has caused Feshbach and others to predict that a more realistic figure for the Russian population could be around 77-102 million by 2050.
The Kennan Institute is the premier U.S. center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, and the region through research and exchange. Read more
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