Russia Table of Contents

The range of estimates for Russia's 1995 population is between 147.5 and 149.9 million. Roughly 78 percent of Russia's population lives in the European part of Russia; most of the industrial cities with over 1 million inhabitants are located in the European part. In order of size, the largest Russian cities are Moscow (8.7 million people in 1992), St. Petersburg (4.4 million), Novosibirsk (1.4 million), Nizhniy Novgorod (1.4 million), Yekaterinburg (1.4 million), Samara (1.2 million), Omsk (1.2 million), Chelyabinsk (1.1 million), and Kazan' (1.1 million). Of those cities, only Novosibirsk and Omsk are located east of the Urals. In 1995 Russia's population density was 8.7 persons per square kilometer, but distribution varies from more than 200 persons per square kilometer in parts of European Russia, to 0.03 person per square kilometer in the Evenk Autonomous Region of Siberia.

According to most sources, the population of the present Russian Federation peaked in 1991 at 148,689,000. Even with significant increases in immigration in the early 1990s, the Russian population has been shrinking since 1992; according to projections by the Center for Economic Analysis of the Russian Federation, immigration will make a very small dent in a continued negative natural increase through the year 2005. Thus, for the period 1985-2005, projected total immigration is 3.3 million, whereas the natural population will decrease by 12.9 million. The annual rate of population change, which dropped from 0.7 percent in 1985 to its first negative figure of -0.3 percent in 1992, is projected to reach -0.6 percent in 1998 and to continue at that level through 2005.

Several reasons are given for the decline in Russia's population. First, the postwar baby boom, which began echoing in a secondary population rise in many Western countries in the early 1990s, had much less demographic impact in Russia. Second, a long history of Soviet ecological abuse has planted still unquantifiable seeds of demographic decline throughout the population, especially in areas of concentrated industry, military installations, and intensive agriculture. Third, post-Soviet Russia has experienced a general decline in health conditions and health care (see Health, ch. 5).

In addition, the prolonged economic downturn of the early and mid-1990s, in which an estimated 31 percent of the population (46.5 million people) had incomes below the poverty level, has increased the incidence of malnutrition, which in turn lowers resistance to common ailments. Only individuals who have their own gardens are assured a regular supply of fruits and vegetables (see table 6, Appendix). Even under the Soviet system, the average Russian's diet was classified as deficient, so the population now shows the cumulative effects of earlier living conditions as well as current limitations. Poor economic prospects, together with low confidence in the state's family benefits programs, discourage Russians from planning families; the least positive "reproductive attitudes" have been found in the Urals and in northeastern Siberia.

Experts have identified a number of general demographic trends that are likely to prevail between 1996 and 2005. Contrary to the trend in Western countries of a shrinking working population supporting an expanding community of retired individuals, in Russia a declining life expectancy and a declining birthrate will increase marginally the proportion of active workers in the population. The actual number of such people is not likely to rise appreciably, however, and some analyses project a decline in this figure as well. In 1992, for every 1,000 people of working age, 771 people were outside working age; the Center for Economic Analysis projects that in 2005 that proportion will drop to 560 per 1,000. The declining birthrate is projected to cause the ratio of younger-than-working-age individuals in the population to decrease dramatically from the 1992 figure of 421 per 1,000 in the working-age group to only 241 per 1,000 in 2005. According to that scenario, the overall percentage of the population in the working-age group would increase from 56.5 to 64.1.

Most of the demographic disasters that have beset Russia in the twentieth century have affected primarily males. In 1992 the sex ratio was 884 males per 1,000 females; in the years between 1994 and 2005, the imbalance is projected to increase slightly to a ratio of 875 males per 1,000 females (see table 7, Appendix). Gender disparity has increased because of a sharp drop in life expectancy for Russian males, from sixty-five years in 1987 to fifty-seven in 1994. (Life expectancy for females reached a peak of 74.5 years in 1989, then dropped to 71.1 by 1994.) Projected changes in life expectancy are negative for both sexes, however. Mortality figures that the Ministry of Labor released in mid-1995 showed that if the current conditions persist, nearly 50 percent of today's Russian youth will not reach the retirement ages of fifty-five for women and sixty for men.

The process of urbanization of the Russian population, ongoing since the 1930s, began a gradual reversal in 1991, when a peak of 74 percent of the population was classified as urban. This marked a significant increase from the 1970 figure of 62 percent. In 1995 the urban share fell below 73 percent. Meanwhile, rural areas continued to lose significant portions of their population. Between 1960 and 1995, about two-thirds of Russia's small villages (those with fewer than 1,000 residents) disappeared; of the 24,000 that remained in the mid-1990s, more than half the population was older than sixty-five and only 20 percent was younger than thirty-five (see Rural Life, ch. 5). Migration has exacerbated the negative population trend of lower marriage and birthrates in many rural settlements. As the young have left rural Russia, large rural sections of the country's central region have been deserted. As their aged inhabitants die, thousands more Russian villages are disappearing. Proposals have been put forth for resettling some of the Russian immigrants from the "near abroad" in rural areas in order to revive local economies, but in the mid-1990s migration authorities had little authority and few resources with which to organize such a program.

A particular demographic concern of the Russian government, as well as governments of the other states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS--see Glossary), is the loss of highly skilled personnel. This problem had existed in the last decade of the Soviet Union; in 1989 some 2,653 employees of the Soviet Union's Academy of Sciences left the country, five times more than in 1988. A 1990 sociological forecast predicted that 1.5 million specialists would leave the country in the 1990s if conditions did not improve.

The easing of emigration restrictions in the early 1990s resulted in a significant increase in Russia's "brain drain." In the early 1990s, China, North Korea, the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Iran, Iraq, and several Latin American countries offered jobs to scientists in Russia, especially those with nuclear backgrounds. (Russia also loses scientific know-how when its scientists move into the growing financial and commercial fields; in 1994 the newspaper Moskovskiye novosti reported than one in three leaders of commercial structures was a former scientist or technical specialist.) An ongoing economic crisis and political uncertainty encourage individuals with marketable skills to leave Russia. A high percentage of immigrants from other CIS republics possess the same type of skills as those being lost, but in the mid-1990s Russia lacked a program for settling and apportioning the newcomers so that their presence would compensate for emigration losses.


With the exception of a few ethnic groups in the North Caucasus, birthrates for all nationalities in Russia have generally declined in the postwar period (see Ethnic Composition, ch. 4). Throughout the Soviet period, urbanization was rapid, and urban families generally had fewer children than rural ones. The urbanization process ended in 1992, when for the first time in the postwar period a smaller percentage of the Russian population lived in cities than the year before. By that time, however, substantial reasons existed for Russians to limit the size of their families. The population decline of the Russians has been especially pronounced in comparison with other ethnic groups. In many of the twenty-one republics, the titular nationalities have registered higher birthrates and larger average family sizes than the Russian populations.

The birthrate of Russians already was falling dramatically in the 1960s, moving from 23.2 per 1,000 population at the beginning of the decade to 14.1 in 1968. By 1983 the rate had recovered to 17.3 per 1,000, stimulated by a state program that provided incentives for larger families, including increased maternity benefits. Another decline in the birthrate began in 1987, and by 1993 the rate was only 9.4 per 1,000. According to the projections of the Center for Economic Analysis, after reaching its lowest point (8.0 per 1,000) in 1995, the birthrate will rise gradually to 9.7 per 1,000 in 2005.

In the turnaround year of 1992, the number of births in Russia dropped by 207,000 (13 percent) compared with 1991, and the number of deaths increased by 116,000 (7 percent). The fertility rate has dropped in both urban and rural areas. In the early 1990s, the lowest rates were in the northwest, especially St. Petersburg and in central European Russia. The disparity between birth and death rates was especially pronounced in the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg and in the European oblasts of Pskov, Tula, Tver', Belgorod, Leningrad, Novgorod, Yaroslavl', Moscow, Tambov, and Ivanovo. In 1992 natural population growth occurred only in the republics of Kalmykia, Dagestan, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachayevo-Cherkessia, North Ossetia, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Gorno-Altay, Sakha, and Tyva, and in Tyumen' and Chita oblasts of western and eastern Siberia, respectively. However, although fertility rates in the predominantly Muslim republics of the North Caucasus and the Volga region continued to exceed those of the Slavic population, by 1995 the rate was declining even in Dagestan, the republic with the highest birthrate in Russia.

For Russians the total fertility rate, which is the average number of children a woman of childbearing age will have at current birthrates, fell from 2.0 in 1989 to 1.4 in 1993. The State Committee for Statistics (Goskomstat) estimates that the rate will decline further to 1.0 by the year 2000. Roughly half as many children were born in 1993 as in 1987. In 1994 the population of Russia fell by 920,000.

The sharp decline in the fertility rate in the 1990s was linked to the social and economic troubles triggered by the rapid transition to a market economy and resulting unemployment. Families have been destabilized, and living standards for many have fallen from even the modest levels of the Soviet era (see The Family, ch. 5). Under such circumstances, decisions on marriage and childbearing often are postponed. Particularly in the cities, housing has been extremely hard to acquire, and the percentage of working wives has increased significantly in the post-Soviet era (see The Role of Women, ch. 5). The number of common-law marriages, which produce fewer children than traditional marriages, has increased since the 1960s, as has the percentage of babies born to unattached women.

History also has affected the absolute number of births. The birthrate during World War II was very low, accounting for part of the low birthrate of females in the 1960s, which in turn lowered the rate in the 1990s. Between 1989 and 1993, the number of women in the prime childbearing age-group decreased by 1.3 million, or 12 percent, making a major contribution to the 27 percent decline in births during that period. Between 1990 and 1994, the government's official estimate of the infant mortality rate rose from 17.4 per 1,000 live births to 19.9, reflecting deterioration of Russia's child care and nutrition standards. But Russia has not used international viability standards for newborns, and one Western estimate placed the 1995 rate at 26.3. Between 1992 and 1995, the official maternal mortality rate also rose from forty-seven to fifty-two deaths per 100,000 births.


Fertility in Russia has been adversely affected by the common practice of using abortion as a primary means of birth control. In 1920 the Soviet Union was the first country to legalize abortion. Sixteen years later it was prohibited, except in certain circumstances, to compensate for the millions of lives lost in the collectivization of agriculture and the widespread famine that followed in the 1930s. The practice was fully legalized once again in 1968, and an entire industry evolved offering abortion services and encouraging women to use them. Although abortions became easily available for most women, an estimated 15 percent of the Soviet total were performed illegally in private facilities. Because of the persistent lack of contraceptive devices in both Soviet and independent Russia (and the social taboo on discussion of contraception and sex in general, which continued in the 1990s), for most women abortion remains the only reliable method of avoiding unwanted pregnancy (see Health Conditions; Sexual Attitudes, ch. 5). Russia continues to have the highest abortion rate in the world, as did the Soviet Union. In the mid-1990s, the Russian average was 225 terminated pregnancies per 100 births and ninety-eight abortions for every 1,000 women of childbearing age per year--a yearly average of 3.5 million. An estimated one-quarter of maternal fatalities result from abortion procedures.


The social and economic crises that gripped Russia in the early 1990s are reflected in increased mortality and declining life expectancy, especially among able-bodied males. Contributing to Russia's long-term population decline is a projected mortality rate increase from 11.3 per 1,000 population in 1985 to 15.9 per 1,000 in 2005. Russia's mortality rate reached its lowest level, 10.4 per 1,000 population, in 1986 (for which a state anti-alcohol campaign received substantial credit); then the figure rose steadily in the ensuing decade. The largest jump was from 12.2 to 14.6 per 1,000 between 1992 and 1993; after having reached 15.7 per 1,000 in 1995, the rate was projected to remain virtually flat over the next decade.

According to 1994 statistics, the life expectancy for Russian males had reached 57.3 years and for females 71.1 years. These are the lowest figures and the largest disparity by sex for any country reporting to the World Health Organization, and they are a sharp decline from the 1987 levels of 64.9 years for males and 74.6 years for females. In 1990 the Russian Republic ranked only seventh in this statistic among the fifteen republics of the Soviet Union. The lag in the average life expectancy of males was attributed to alcohol and tobacco abuse; to unsafe conditions at work, on the road, and in the home; and to declining heath care.

Mortality rates are especially high for able-bodied males in rural areas. Served poorly by the health care system and lacking basic sanitary facilities and conveniences, many farming communities have been transformed into enclaves for the elderly, the indigent, and the sick. Moreover, indigenous nationalities such as the Evenks and the Nenets have suffered catastrophic declines in life expectancy and high rates of sickness and death that have prompted speculation that some of those groups may become extinct. Geographically, the lowest average life expectancy in Russia is in the Siberian Republic of Tyva, and the highest figures are in the Caucasus Republic of Dagestan and in the Volga region. In the first half of the 1990s, the imbalance between the birth and death rates was especially acute in major cities. In Moscow and St. Petersburg, the number of deaths in 1992 was almost double the number of births.

Since 1987 mortality from accidents, injuries, and poisonings has risen significantly, from 101 to 228 per 100,000 population. Contributing to that figure are an estimated 8,000 fatal workplace accidents per year, largely the result of aging equipment, the proliferation of risky jobs in the unofficial "shadow economy," and the deterioration of work discipline. For the period between 1990 and 1994, the suicide rate rose by 57 percent to a total of nearly 62,000, putting Russia in third place among eighty-four developed countries. The stress of the transition period is one explanation for this rising statistic. The homicide rate rose by more than 50 percent in the same period. In 1994 Russia's 35,000 motor vehicle deaths nearly equaled the 40,000 in the United States, although Russia has less than 1 percent as many automobiles. Deteriorating roads and declining police discipline are the main causes of that fatality statistic.

The chief natural cause of death is diseases of the circulatory system, which accounted for 769 deaths per 100,000 population in 1993. The next causes in order of frequency are cancer and respiratory diseases. Among people of working age, 41 percent of deaths are attributable to unnatural causes; the proportion of such deaths was highest in Leningrad Oblast, the Permyak Autonomous Region, the Republic of Tyva, and the Evenk Autonomous Region. The number of alcohol-related deaths also climbed in the mid-1990s; the 1994 figure was 25 percent higher than the 1993 total. In some regions, alcoholism has assumed epidemic proportions; in the Bikin Rayon of Khabarovsk Territory on the Pacific coast, nearly half the deaths between 1991 and 1995 were alcohol related.

The overall aging of the population also is an important factor in the higher mortality rate. Between 1959 and 1989, the percentage of retirees in the population and the percentage of Russians eighty or older nearly doubled, although declining life expectancy already was reducing the impact of that trend in the mid-1990s.

More about the Population of Russia.

Custom Search

Source: U.S. Library of Congress