Courtesy Reuters

The Russian Population Enigma

THE question of the size of the postwar population of the Soviet Union is not the least of the enigmas which have been baffling students of Russian affairs. Hardly any estimate or evaluation of an economic, sociological or military character for the U.S.S.R. can be made meaningful without an accurate knowledge of the demographic base.

The last reliable population figure was that of the census of January 17, 1939, which showed a population of 170,500,000. Since that date, both before and after the war, there have been incorporated into the Soviet Union territories with a prewar population of about 24,000,000. For the postwar population of the enlarged territory of the U.S.S.R., Soviet sources offer only an estimated figure of 193,000,000, disclosed in January 1946 by G. F. Alexandroff, then Chief of Propaganda of the Communist Party Central Committee.[i]

Mistrusting this estimate, which was made in a political speech practically without substantiation, two outstanding scholars of Russian origin have attempted to evaluate independently the postwar population of the Soviet Union on the basis of other available information. Professor S. N. Prokopovich based his estimate mainly on the number of voters registered for the elections of February 1946.[ii] Assuming that they constituted the same percentage of the total population as in the elections of 1937, Prokopovich estimates the postwar population of the Soviet Union as 180,500,000. This computation leaves out of account the changing age distribution and the increasing numbers of disenfranchised persons.

Nearly the same figure (181,000,000) is obtained by Professor N. S. Timasheff.[iii] He estimates the postwar population in a new and original way, calculating separately three age groups: 1, up to seven years; 2, from eight to 17 years; and 3, 18 and over (let us call them respectively infants, adolescents and adults). However, this attempt, too, can hardly be considered successful, in spite of the copious data utilized by the author and his skillful interpretation of them.

The number of infants in 1946 is computed by Timasheff at 36,000,000, on the basis of prewar data and assuming a wartime birth

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