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Demographic Policy in Russia: from Reflection to Action

Moscow, 28 April 2008 Today, the United Nations in the Russian Federation presented the UN in Russia joint publication Demographic Policy in Russia: from Reflection to Action prepared by a group of independent national experts. The presentation was conducted in cooperation with the Center of Strategic Research.

Why the topic of demography has been chosen? It is obvious that the demographic situation directly affects the economic development, competitiveness and stability, and in the end, the well-being and prosperity of the population. As Marco Borsotti, UN Resident Coordinator in the RF, pointed out in his welcoming address, collectively, we are responding to a topic, which is very important for Russia. And we are using our competence to pose mostly questions

Some of the encouraging answers were given in the presentation of the Olga Sharapova, Director of the Department for medical and social issues of families, maternity and childhood of the Ministry of Health and Social Development of the RF. She cited the preliminary results of the measures undertaken by the government for the end of the last year as showing higher fertility, lower mortality and increased life expectancy. Importantly, since the end of the last year, several programmes have been adopted, including those targeted at decreasing mortality from cardio-vascular diseases and traffic accidents. The state has allocated 10 billion Roubles for these programmes, which will be transferred to Russias regions. The maternity allowances will be increased, and measures are being taken to improve the health services for pregnant women and children. The construction of 23 specialized prenatal centres has started in the country. However, as Sharapova put it, the discussion of the report will give a strong impetus in identifying, which aspects we should still work on .

Karl Kulessa, UNFPA Representative in the RF, conitued that the demographic decline is a phenomenon that is affecting virtually all of Europe. Russia is not even the worst affected. There are countries with an even lower decline. Russia moreover unlike most of its Eastern European neighbors at present also enjoys the necessary financial resources to implement social policies designed to increase fertility levels. But again as we have seen in some west European countries, money alone is no guarantee either. According to him, A fundamental worry among policy makers is that what we are seeing is the emergence of cultural trends away from larger families. Couples adjust the number of children to correspond to a set of priorities where children are only one variable among several. The Russian Government is very sensitive to these demographic trends, and the response has been a very generous incentive package combined with a major political drive that emanates from the highest level. The question is whether any population policy even if well funded can achieve its full potential, concluded Karl Kulessa.

The authors of the report agree that demographic development in Russia to a large extent has much in common with the European one. However, certain indicators, such as of life expectancy and mortality rates, seriously differ. If these tendencies prevail, it may have very negative social and economic consequences for the future of the country. The most disturbing trends are as follows:

  1. It is already for forty years that fertility in Russia cannot provide for the simple replacement of its population; mortality in men of working age is as high as it was a century ago.
  2. Beginning from 1992, mortality in Russia has consistently exceeded fertility: the loss of population has amounted to approximately 12 mln individuals and was partially compensated for by 5.5 mln due to migration gains.
  3. Should current reproductive trends (low fertility and high mortality) remain, they could lead to a nationwide population of 125135 mln by early 2025 and as low as 100 mln by 2050.
  4. The age and gender structure of the population has been severely distorted, which has and will have negative effects on reproduction.
  5. The ageing of the population is continuing, as a result of which the size of the working-age population will fall by up to 1 mln annually already by 2020-25, thus raising the dependent load to 670750 and 9001000 by 2050, which will negatively influence economic growth rates. This will inevitably lead to increasing the retirement age in the near future.

According to the preliminary data for 2007, mentioned earlier, the number of births increased and mortality went down. But this doesn't change a principal evaluation of the situation: a favorable trend may continue for another 5-6 years, and then the loss will start to grow. At the moment, there are no grounds to believe that the crisis will be overcome and the size of the population will be stabilized or that the goal of the state to raise the size of population to 145 mln persons will be reached.

Valeri Elizarov, Chief Author and Head of the Center for Population Studie of, Moscow State University Economics Department, offered a set of concrete recommendations, which, in his opinion, could have an immediate effect. He listed among low-cost measures the necessity to restore the distorted information collection system, including through civil registry offices, to conduct the demographic expertise of all political decisions, and to improve the knowledge of demographic issues among civil servants and parliamentarians. Other measures could include tax benefits for those who have more children, development of family and child care infrastructure; increase of family allowances to the level of developed countries (2-3% of GDP).

On 9 October 2007, the President issued a Decree to adopt the Concept of Demographic Policy to 2025 and ordered within 3 months to adopt the plan of the Programs implementation in 2008-2010. The document gives a detailed description of the principles of the demographic policy, identifies the tasks and the stages of implementation. However, quantitative indicator that describe set ambitious goals and tasks make one doubt if they are correct, agreed and realistic. It is obvious that further work is needed to specify set tasks and goals, to give concrete definition to such tasks for different levels of implementation of demographic policy (federal, regional, local), calculate required funds and look for the mechanisms of financing of demographic policy. Many issues of providing information, legal, scientific support and human resources for demographic policy remain outstanding. It s equally necessary to continue the research of determining factors and consequences of the current demographic situation and factors that can in principle impact its improvement by studying the experience of other countries that try to address similar problems. Many issues because of their complexity and scale are still open for discussion that must involve all the stakeholders state authorities, public organizations, socially responsible business and experts in demographic and social policy.

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The full text of the report is in Publications section of the site.
For more information please contact Victoria Zotikova, UNDP Communications Officer, at (+7 495) 787 21 15 or by e-mail victoria.zotikova@undp.org

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