Russia sees baby boom in 2007

February, 2008

The health and social development minister said Friday that in 2007 Russia had the highest number of births since 1991. “Russia has not seen such a baby boom for 15 years, the highest number of births since 1991,” Tatyana Golikova said, adding that 1.6 million babies were born last year, up 122,750 against 2006. The official praised presidential maternity incentives approved last year, including higher payments for mothers of children under 18 months, benefits for unemployed mothers and payouts of about $9,500 for the birth of two or more children, so called baby-money. Demographic issues are widely seen as one of the main threats facing modern Russia since the market reforms and economic hardship of the 1990s. Many experts are concerned that Russia will be hit be a demographic crisis in the near future. According to United Nations predictions, Russia’s population, currently at about 142 million, could fall by 30 percent by the middle of the century.

Source: http://www.kansascity.com/659/story/471840.html

Russians, Busy Making Shrouds, Are Asked to Make Babies

PRESIDENT VLADIMIR V. PUTIN drew from the Soviet past on Wednesday when he championed the role of motherhood in preventing Russia from becoming a state short of citizens. Russia's population is shrinking, and demographers warn that it is within a generation of plummeting. If the most pessimistic models hold, the decline could make the country a vast, underpopulated state within four or five decades, a country with too few healthy people for a competitive work force or a capable army. Russian life, for the peasantry and the proletariat alike, has always been unforgiving. And in a speech reminiscent of Soviet pledges of the state helping the masses so that the masses might help the state, Mr. Putin chose the familiar Soviet solution of encouraging stalwart reproduction, telling his obedient Parliament to enact programs of financial incentives to women to have more children. The Kremlin-friendly news media here, a place that often feels like the land of the family with a single child, crowed in approval. The president had spoken: Here is the money, he had essentially said; Russian mothers, fulfill your role. Beneath the enthusiasm was a question Mr. Putin did not address. Will cash incentives work? The data would say: Not quite. There is little doubt that for Russia to be a power through the 21st century its demographic trends must be reversed. There also seems to be no question that Russian mothers, short of feats of fertility unseen in the industrialized world, cannot save Russia alone. "You have to do this in a variety of ways," said Dr. Murray Feshbach, a demographer who studies the Russian population and its health.

The problems can be found in the numbers. Russia has roughly 143 million people, and the population drops an average of 700,000 each year, largely because of the wide gap between the number of those born and the number who die. More babies will help. But as the population shrinks, Dr. Feshbach said, it risks an accelerating collapse that fertility itself cannot reverse. This is in part because the low birthrate is more than two decades old, and the number of women ages 20 to 29, the most fecund segment of the population, has already fallen to 12 million, he said. In the next several years, women that age will fall to eight million or fewer — a small contingent to bear the next generation. And as analysts at the World Bank and the United Nations have pointed out, the threat to the population is not just low birthrates but high death rates. The Russian people are deeply unhealthy, so much so that there is no demographic group in the industrial world as ailing and prone to fatal injury as the Russian male, whose average age at death is about 59. Abysmal mortality trends separate Russia from other industrial nations that offer incentives to stimulate population growth, including Japan and Australia. Moreover, pernicious infections have entered the population since Soviet times, making the country a growing reservoir of people recently infected with tuberculosis, H.I.V. and hepatitis C. Many of these infections have not yet turned into high rates of disease, but public health authorities say that as the incubation periods run their course over the next several years, their effects on national health will be evident.

Tuberculosis is already at epidemic levels, and an expected surge in AIDS cases and hepatitis complications could, by the most dire models, kill more than half a million people a year in a generation or two. There are signs that Russia is waking to the problems. Last month, the Kremlin pushed through a roughly twentyfold increase in its paltry financing for AIDS prevention, diagnosis and treatment — a sign of an understanding of the severity of the problem, said Dmitry Rechnov, a deputy director of AIDS Foundation East West, a private organization here. "If we keep on this track, there can be a number of positive developments," he said. Still, the Kremlin's attention to public health has been uneven, and expected increases in mortality related to infectious disease would push up a death rate already driven above norms in industrial nations by high rates of heart disease, cancer, alcoholism, accidents, violence and suicide. The potential consequences are clear. In a report released last year, the World Bank warned that if Russia did not adopt comprehensive public health programs, it risked a shrinking work force, destabilized families, strains on national security and a drain on the gross domestic product. And not everyone agrees that cash incentives, which are not part of a comprehensive health program, will even achieve what the Kremlin hopes — more healthy and productive children.

If Mr. Putin's proposals pass, as they almost certainly will, then next year mothers will receive bonuses worth about $9,000 for giving birth, as well as a graduating scale of monthly cash allowances for infants and subsidies for day care. Many women said in interviews that they welcomed the plans. With low salaries, tiny, crowded apartments and rising costs of living, they at last saw a president offering relief, however small. Let the baby boom begin, one said. "Many women will start having children," said Katya Druzhchenko, 19, a student who hopes to have three. "Right now if you think about the economic situation for young women, it is just totally impossible." But Dr. Ivan Safranchuk, a middle-class father of two and director of the Moscow office of the World Security Institute, an international think tank, said money-for-motherhood incentives would not work. Russian parents, he said, opt for few children not just because of financial worries but because infrastructure — parks, schools, hospitals, entertainment centers, transportation — is strained. He pointed to surging rates of car ownership to make a point. "The message of the president, that people cannot afford kids, is not true," he said. "Look at the rate of new cars in the country, especially of imported cars. All of these people can afford to give birth to kids, but they do not." This is also because attitudes have become unwelcome to child-rearing, he said. "When you go to a restaurant or a social setting, the whole social infrastructure is unfriendly to your kids." Dr. Safranchuk suggested that Russia ought not offer cash incentives, but tax breaks. There are no child deductions on personal income taxes, except a small one for education costs.

Rather than create a well-raised new generation, he said, the subsidies could encourage the poorest and least-educated women to have children, while having little influence on the family decisions in the middle class. Mr. Putin, he said, "has created a system which converts oil and gas into money; now he is creating a system that converts money into nothing, or that converts money into problems." Mr. Putin did not go as far as past Kremlin leaders, like Stalin, who encouraged women to repopulate a nation thinned by repression and war by offering Medals of Maternal Glory to mothers who brought forth seven, eight or nine children. The medals bore the words Mother-Heroine. Even were Mr. Putin to do so, the numbers suggest, without shifts in attitudes and widespread improvements, the traffic at maternity wards will remain slower than the Russians' rush to the grave.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/14/we...=1&oref=slogin

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