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Soviet Union

Age and Sex Structure

The aspect of the population most affected by the cataclysmic demographic events was its age and sex structure. The consequences of World War II ensured that the existing surplus of women would persist for at least another generation; more than four decades after its conclusion, women, most of whom were born before the war, still outnumbered men by about 16 million (see table 9, Appendix A). This imbalance has had a profound impact on the economy, social structure, and population reproduction in the Soviet Union. Before the war, just under 40 percent of women were in the work force: since 1970 they have been a slight majority of all workers. The female component of the work force since the start of the war has become an indispensable feature of the Soviet economy, and the overwhelming majority of working-age women were employed in 1987.

Because a significant portion of an entire generation perished in the war, marriages and births were fewer for some time thereafter. The decline in the marriage and birth rates produced a population pyramid with bulges and contractions in specific age and sex groups and with significantly higher percentages of older women at the top of the pyramid (see fig. 8). Expressed another way, in 1987 for every one dedushka (grandfather), there were almost three babushki (grandmothers).

Because both the economic and the military might of a country largely depend upon its labor force, the able-bodied population (defined in the Soviet Union as males sixteen to fifty-nine years of age and females sixteen to fifty-four years of age) was for Soviet planners an increasing cause of concern. Additions to the working-age population peaked in the 1970s, with a growth of almost 23 million; projected increases in the 1980s were expected to be one-quarter that number, with a gradual improvement to one-half (11.6 million) in the 1990s. This slowed growth placed a strain on the economy in the late 1970s and early 1980s by requiring continuous boosts in productivity (see Labor , ch. 11).

In 1985 the sexes were in rough balance, with a slight male preponderance up to the population median age of 33.4 years. Beyond the median age, however, women outnumbered men in the population and in the work force. In some professions and economic sectors (health care, trade, food services, social services, and physical education, for example), more than 80 percent of all workers were women.

Data as of May 1989