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The population in what is now the Russian Federation has undergone several major shocks in the twentieth century, including large-scale rural famines in the 1920s and 1930s and the loss of millions of citizens in World War II. According to demographic experts, the early 1990s may be the start of a more gradual but potentially powerful new shift. Beginning in 1992, the population has suffered a net loss that is projected to continue at least through the first decade of the next century. This phenomenon is caused by a combination of economic, political, and ethnographic factors.

In the mid-1990s, Russians constituted about 82 percent of the population of the Russian Federation, and they dominate virtually all regions of the country except for the North Caucasus and parts of the middle Volga region (see Minority Peoples and Their Territories, ch. 4). The major ethnic minorities are Tatars (3.8 percent), Ukrainians (3.0 percent), Chuvash (1.2 percent), Bashkirs (0.9 percent), Belarusians (0.8 percent), and Mordovians (0.7 percent). The total population of the twenty-one ethnic republics, all designated for one or more of the minority groups in the federation, was about 24 million. However, only in eight of the republics was the population of the titular group (or groups, in the case of Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachayevo-Cherkessia) larger than the population of Russians, and Russians constitute more than half the population in nine republics. One other ethnic jurisdiction, the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region in the West Siberian Plain, has a population of more than 1 million; however, two-thirds of the autonomous region's population are Russian settlers, and the Khanty and Mansi, the tribes for which the region is named, together constitute less than 2 percent of the population.

Demographic Conditions

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.

Data as of July 1996

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