The birth rate in Russia is growing steadily. In 2001 the number of new-borns was 1,300,000 and in 2002 - 1,400,000. Demographers expect that this year's figure will increase by at least 100,000. Meanwhile, infant mortality has decreased from 16.9 for every 1,000 new-borns in 1999 to 13.9 in 2002. Surveys show that 35 per cent of young mothers under 24 want to have three children.
Still, it is too early to speak of a demographic surge. Russia's population declines by 1 million people annually and, according to UN estimates, by 2050 will only be 101.5 million instead of the present 145 million. To all appearances, the country's reproductive behaviour will repeat the experience of the West.
This means that there will be at best 1.5 children per woman in Russia, and there is no hope of achieving at least a simple succession of generations. It requires at least 2 births per woman.
Definitely, this birth rate crisis is not something specifically Russian. The West has been facing it for quite a long time. Germany has 1.34 children per woman, Italy and Spain 1.25 and 1.22, respectively. For young Europeans who live in industrialized states procreation is no longer the number one priority. Europe has already been ageing demographically for several decades. It knows very well what postponed births mean, i.e. when people have children only after a better economic period begins.
Now the fashion of having children late has spread to Russia. In the Soviet era young people started their working and family lives simultaneously, at the age of 20+, but this is no longer the case. Young city dwellers want to have a career, to attain financial stability first and only then start thinking about children. Marriage as an institution is not greatly respected and one in three or even one in two marriages end in divorce. In many ways birth rate growth is hindered by economic difficulties: low wages in the provinces and unemployment. If the West, having recovered from the sexual revolution, has come to appreciate the traditional values of the family and children, in Russia these are still not a priority for the young.
Time when Russian families had up to eight children has sunk into the oblivion. In large cities even three children in a family are rare. Families with many children are often far less well off than others. Head of the population department of Moscow State University's faculty of economics, Professor Vladimir Solntsev, believes that such "children are mainly born to marginal sections of the population, drug addicts and alcoholics".
There are also other birth-related problems. Despite the implementation of the federal programme Healthy Child, out of the approximately 40 million Russian women at the reproductive age, 5 million want to, but for different reasons cannot have children. One of the major causes is abortion, the average number of which is 50 per 1,000 women of child-bearing age. "It is a paradox: abortion in this country is free of charge, but infertile women have to pay large sums of their own money for treatment," points out a leading Russian fertility expert, and director of the Obstetrics, Gynaecology and Perinatology Scientific Centre of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences, Vladimir Kulakov.
According to sociologists, 88 per cent of Russians believe that the state should actively stimulate the birth rate growth in the country. Some regions have already launched such programmes. Moscow will soon adopt the law On Young People, which will envisage subsidies to encourage young families to give birth. The first child will "cost" 15,000 roubles ($1 equals about 30 roubles), the second 21,000 roubles, the third 30,000 roubles. They will also have favourable terms for acquiring housing. All these measures are quite effective, yet the more certain way to increase the birth rate is to achieve stable economic growth.
Demographers believe that if Russia's economic upturn remains stable and the population's real incomes continue to grow (in 2002 they grew by 14 per cent), the birth-rate will continue to grow for some time. Russia is already witnessing the effect of the so-called postponed births. The generation of the 1970s has started feeling more confident and has decided to have children. Today's positive demographic trend is an echo of the 1980s baby boom: children born in those years are becoming parents themselves.
Olga Sobolevskaya, RIAN