The Associated Press
MOSCOW - The steady decline of Russia's population, unprecedented for an industrialized nation not at war, is likely to last for decades to come, the head of the government statistics agency said yesterday.
"The population decline, which started in 1992, will continue for many years, maybe decades, maybe even a half-century," Vladimir Sokolin, the head of Russia's State Statistics Committee, said at a news conference.
Russia's population has dwindled by 3.3 million since the 1991 Soviet collapse to about 145 million as of Oct. 1. In the first nine months of this year alone, the country lost 550,600 people. The State Statistics Committee forecasts that the population will shrink by 11 million more people in the next 15 years.
While some factors behind the trend, such as the falling birth rate, are similar to those in Western nations, experts point to economic depression as the key reason for the population decline. Dismal economic conditions in the 1990s have led to a
dramatic plunge in living standards, a steady disintegration of the state health care system, and a corresponding rise in mortality.
According to the latest report from the State Statistics Committee, Russia's overall average life expectancy fell by about three years during the last decade to 66 years in 1999. The rate for men was 60 years, 10-15 years less than in Western
countries, while the average life expectancy for women was 72 years, six to eight years less than in the West.
"The gap between life expectancy for men and women in Russia is one of the widest in the world," said Irina Zbarskaya,the head of demographics research at the State Statistics Committee. Experts have attributed the gap to increasing alcohol abuse that has taken a harsh toll on Russian men.
The decline in health care has resulted in a high number of deaths of babies up to a year old, far exceeding the level in Western countries. Russia's infant mortality rate, which reached its peak with 20 deaths per 1,000 births in 1993, has
since dropped, reaching just under 16 per 1,000 births last year. But that was still shockingly high compared with the
U.S. infant mortality rate of about 7 deaths per 1,000 births in 1999.
"The infant mortality rate that Russia has is extremely high for a developed country," Zbarskaya said.
The drop in population has been partly compensated by an inflow of immigrants, mainly ethnic Russians from other former Soviet republics. But immigration has slowed down, Zbarskaya said.