For decades, first the Soviet Union and then Russia languished under adverse population trends. Deaths far outpaced births, life expectancy was dismally low, and social ills, from alcoholism to unsafe abortion practices, were rampant.
Over the past several years, however, this demographic picture has somewhat brightened. In 2012, live births outnumbered deaths for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. That indicator has remained marginally positive, and others have also begun to improve. By 2013, Russia’s average life expectancy reached a historic high, at 71 years, and birthrates nearly matched European averages. These reversals have been modest, but they have been enough for the Kremlin to proclaim victory in its decades-long fight against demographic decline. In a December address to Kremlin officials, for instance, Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrated the “effectiveness” of Russia’s demographic programs in reversing the country’s trajectory.
His conclusion, however, is extremely premature. That
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