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Soviet Union

Vital Statistics

In the period after World War II, annual population growth rates gradually declined from a high of 1.4 percent during the 1961-65 period to 0.9 percent, the rate throughout the 1970s and most of the 1980s. Such a rate of increase is typical for an industrialized urbanized society, and it closely matched the 1.0 percent growth rate recorded in the United States for the same period.

Between 1971 and 1986, average life expectancy fluctuated and actually decreased in some years before stabilizing at about seventy years (see table 8, Appendix A). The difference of eight to ten years between male and female life expectancy in favor of women was somewhat greater than in most Western countries. Life expectancy was longest (73.3 years in 1985-86) in the Armenian Republic and shortest (64.8 years) in the Turkmen Republic.

More than any other demographic index, infant mortality underscored most sharply the tremendous regional differences in the population and its health care. Beginning in the mid-1970s, reporting of infant mortality rates was discontinued; in October 1986, however, Soviet sources revealed that infant mortality rates had actually increased between 1970 and 1986, from 24.7 per 1,000 to 25.4 per 1,000 births. While the rate for the Russian Republic, which is generally better supplied with health facilities, declined by 19 percent, the rate increased for most Soviet Central Asian republics. In one case, the Uzbek Republic, the rate increased by almost 50 percent, to 46.2 per 1,000. In 1986 infant mortality was lowest (11.6 per 1,000) in the Lithuanian Republic and highest (58.2 per 1,000) in the Turkmen Republic.

Analysts proposed a number of reasons to explain what was viewed as an abnormally high rate of infant mortality for a developed country. Among the reasons given was excessive consumption of alcohol and heavy smoking among women; widespread use of abortion as a means of birth control, a procedure that could impair the health of the mother and of children carried to term; teenage pregnancy; unsanitary conditions; and a deteriorating health care system (see Health Care , ch. 6).

In the Soviet Union, virtually all national growth has been the result of natural increase because of traditionally rigid control over immigration and emigration. Growth, however, varies considerably from region to region and from nationality to nationality. In terms of population, there is a clear trend toward the Soviet Union's becoming more Asian and less European. Birth rates in parts of Soviet Central Asia are in some cases ten times higher than birth rates among Slavs. In the intercensal period 1970-78, population growth in the Asian part of the Soviet Union was almost triple the rate of growth in the European section, 16.8 percent versus 5.9 percent.

Although most facets of the population were dynamic, some demographic aspects remained constant: women have outnumbered men since the Bolshevik Revolution, and the overwhelming majority of the people have opted to live in the cities and on the collective farms (see Glossary) and state farms (see Glossary) of the European part of the country. In more than seven decades of Soviet power, the population has experienced periodic cataclysmic demographic events, some of them self-inflicted and some of them of external origin. These wars, famines, purges, and epidemics have left an enduring imprint on the society and on its ability to reproduce and renew itself. The magnitude of human loss in the Soviet Union can be shown by estimating the 1987 population as if it had grown at a relatively modest annual rate of 1 percent from 1917 to 1987. At that rate, the population would have reached approximately 325 million citizens by the seventieth anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Instead, that figure is expected to be reached only in 2016, a delay of more than one generation. The difference between this estimate of 325 million and the actual population in 1987 of 281 million suggests that some 45 to 50 million lives were lost in wars, famines, forced collectivization, and purges.

The single most devastating event by far was World War II, commonly referred to in the Soviet Union as the Great Patriotic War (see The Great Patriotic War , ch. 2). Estimates vary, but an absolute population decline of some 20 to 25 million seems quite plausible. There were 194 million people reportedly living in the Soviet Union in 1940. Only 209 million were counted by the census of 1959 instead of the roughly 234 million that might have been expected, given a moderate rate of growth. Since the end of the war, the population has increased by more than 100 million.

Data as of May 1989

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