Exceptionally low birth rates in transitional economies
Declining birth rates have long been a subject of debate in the former communist countries of Eastern Europe. Birth rates in the region have been falling since the transition to capitalism in the early 1990s when the total fertility rates in these countries were generally higher than those in Western Europe. By 2000 many Eastern European countries had birth rates of less than 1.7 – most were less than 1.5 (Table 1).
Table 1. Total fertility rates in former communist countries
Source: World Bank (2009).
The Russian Federation was no exception. Russia's total fertility rate was 2.01 in 1989, before plummeting throughout to below 1.20 in both 1999 and 2000. At first glance, this might be attributed to a number of possible reasons:
- The decline in incomes that accompanied the sharp fall in GDP made it more difficult for families to cover the cost of childrearing.
- Uncertainty over the future viability of supporting a family may also have had a negative effect on birth rates.
- While the employment rate among women remained high, the cost of nurseries and kindergartens – which had previously been low-cost or free –rose, providing an added strain on larger families (Moskva 2009).
Russia's total population began falling in 1992 (Figure 1). But while this was the subject of many government initiatives, it was not until 2005 that initiatives produced significant policies (Milonov 2006). Childrearing allowances and other benefits were raised in December 2006 accompanied by a new childrearing support scheme called the Mothers' Fund. The Mothers' Fund provides parents of two or more children with a total of 250,000 rubles in subsidies for use on housing, education, or pension contributions, and is available to children born or adopted between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2016. Given that the average monthly income in Russia in September 2007 was 12,000 rubles, the value of these subsidies is huge (Rossiiskaya gazeta 2008). Against this backdrop a presidential order was issued in October 2007 to halt the population decline by 2025.
The problem continues. Despite the fact that the number of births had been rising almost continuously since 1999 (Figure 1) reaching their highest levels since the fall of the Soviet Union in 2007, 2008, and 2009 (Figure 2), the number of deaths also remained high. The overall population decline may have slowed but it has not altogether halted.
And yet, in the second half of 2007, by which time a steady upward trend in the number of births was becoming clear, then-President Putin and cabinet ministers stated on several occasions that their population policies were already having an effect. Although this was little more than political spin, several sections of the media presented it as fact.
Figure 1. Number of births and deaths in Russia
Source: Prepared by the author based on data from Rosstat (2008).
Figure 2. Total fertility rate in Russia
Source: Prepared by the author based on data from Rosstat (2008).
New insights on the determinants of fertility in Russia
This situation raises a number of questions.
- What really does explain the observed rise in the birth rate since 2007?
- What role do economic developments play?
- What effect do the cash payments in return for having children have on the number of births and the fertility rate?
- What are the implications of these factors for the prospects of future fertility trends in Russia?
To answer these questions we use micro-data from the Russia Longitudinal Monitoring Survey (RLMS) focusing on women aged 15 to 49 for each round from 1995 (Round V) to 2004 (Round XIII). Our pooled sample includes over 15,000 observations. The main results of our regression analysis are presented in Table 2 (see Kumo 2009 for more details).
Our first finding is that household income is not a direct determinant of the probability of childbirth. This finding is in line with previous studies on childbirth in Western Europe, which have clearly established that there is no linear relationship between personal income and the probability of childbirth.
Instead, the apparent correlation between GDP and the fertility rate seen in Russia (Figure 3) seems to reflect the switch from the turmoil that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union to the return of economic growth and social stability, which would have reduced uncertainty and thereby helped raise the fertility rate. But the insignificant coefficients on the household income and expenditure variables shown in Table 2 suggest that the return of economic growth has only had an indirect impact on the fertility rate at best.
Table 2. The determinants of childbirth in Russia
Source: Estimated by the author based on forms returned from the Russia Longitudinal Monitoring Survey. Notes: + statistically significant and positive; - statistically significant and negative; n not significant.
Figure 3. GDP and total fertility rate in Russia (1991-2007)
Source: Prepared by the author based on data from Rosstat (2008) and RSE, 2002, 2003, 2009.
We also find that more educated women are also more likely to have children. This phenomenon is unusual. In many other countries the completion of higher education is typically associated with a lower probability of giving birth as such women delay marriage and childbirth and have a greater awareness of reproductive health and contraception.
One possible explanation is that, in the context of the social turmoil and sharp decline in incomes experienced during the 1990s, educational attainment is a proxy for permanent income – with a higher permanent income reducing the relative cost of having children. The fact that employment and the level of satisfaction with life also have a significant impact on the probability of giving birth can be interpreted along the same lines.
As elsewhere, the rate of childbirth in Russia is affected by a range of factors simultaneously. These include economic growth, incomes, the outlook on life, and social stability. It is therefore difficult to determine the specific effects of childbirth incentive measures such as the Mothers' Fund.
In terms of the number of births rather than the birth rate, it goes without saying that demographic factors also need to be taken into consideration. Although the number of births is obviously influenced to a large extent by fluctuations in the number of women of reproductive age, opinion varies as to whether the number of births has increased or decreased once this factor is taken out of the equation (see for example Antonov 2008, Zakharov 2008, Rosstat 2009, and the Moscow Times 2008).
Figure 4 shows the population pyramid for Russia at the start of 2004, where the bulge in the population in their 40s reflects the increase in the number of births following the Second World War. The bulge in the population in their 20s meanwhile represents the generation of their offspring.
Figure 4. Population pyramid for Russia in 2004 (1,000 people)
Source: Prepared by the author based on the internal document supplied by Rosstat.
As this is a population pyramid for 2004, those in their 20s at the beginning of the 21st century were yet to reach their peak age for fertility. Even in the absence of any measures to boost the birth rate, consistently high crude birth rates were to be expected during the first two decades of the 21st century. In fact, Rosstat, the Russian Federal State Statistics Service, had already predicted in 2004 that the birth rate would climb continuously until 2016. It goes without saying that the number of people of reproductive age plays a key role in the number of births. As such, it is clearly meaningless to consider the impact of childbirth incentive measures unless the impact of this factor is excluded.
Moreover, while it may be possible that the Mothers' Fund has helped to lift the birth rate since 2007, there is a chance that all it is actually doing is bringing forward the timing of births that might have happened in the future anyway. Thus there is a possibility that the birth rate will decline again at a later date. In fact, in 2009 Rosstat revised its forecast from 2004 and is now predicting that the birth rate will now stop rising in 2011as opposed to 2016.
Our analysis based on micro-data supports the experience of other countries that fertility is not solely determined by short-term factors such as rising incomes or by the economic climate. Evidence also suggests that childbirth incentive measures may only have a short-term impact. There are questions meanwhile over the sustainability of providing cash payments in return for childbirth on a scale that exceeds average incomes – as is the case with the Mothers' Fund. Even if recent increases in Russia's fertility rate are attributable to the impact of the Mother's Fund, payments are only going to be available to those having children until the end of 2016, after which time the country's fertility rate may well start to decline. The only way to determine if fertility trends since 2006 will be sustained is to monitor trends over the long term.
Antonov, A. I. (ed.) (2008), Monitoring demograficheskoi situatsii v Rossiiskoi Federatsii i tendentsii ee izmeneniya, Moscow, Sotsiologicheskii fakritet MGU.
Kumo, K (2009), “Determinants of Childbirth in Russia: A Micro-Data Approach”, Global COE Hi-Stat Discussion Paper Series No. 104, Hitotsubashi University.
Milonov, S (2006), “Sem'ya - osnova gosudarstva, predsedatel' Soveta Federatsii - o demograficheskoi politike strany”, Parlamentskoe obozrenie, 4(20).
Moscow Times (2008), 11 July.
Rossiiskaya gazeta (2008), 14 February.
Rosstat (2008), Demograficheskii Ezhegodnik Rossii, Moskva, Rosstat.
Rosstat (2009), Demograficheskaya situatsiya v Rossiiskoi Federatsii, material distributed at the All-Russian Conference of Statistician held on 11-12 February,.
RSE: Rossiiskii statisticheskii ezhegodnik, Moscow, Rosstat, various years.
Vechernaya Moskva (2007), 37, 3 February.
World Bank (2009), World Development Indicators 2008, the World Bank.
Zakharov, S (2008), “Rossiiskaya rodzdaemost: dolgodzdannyi rost?”, Demoskop Weekly, No.353-354.
The Japanese version of this column appeared in Hitotsubashi University's Hi-Stat Vox No. 13.