My Dying Mother: Russia’s Depopulation Crisis and its Consequences
Our dear Mother Russia is sick and dying. Power remains as centralized as ever, and the public is still unable to rely on this centrality for security and health benefits. The inability of the Russian government to address the issues surrounding the health of its country has resulted in an unprecedented health crisis never seen before in a literate, urbanized society during peacetime.
BY ALINA A. SMYSLOVA | JUNE 2012
The explosion of the HIV/AIDS virus, tuberculosis, cardiovascular disease, the growing problem of alcoholism, and the decrease in the birth rate remain widely overlooked by Kremlin—an ignorance that is sure to have catastrophic affects on Russia’s near future. The combination of the high death rate and low birth rate, as well as the low life expectancy of the Russian people has resulted in a steep population decline, and the Russian populace has been labeled as the “disappearing population.”
Almost in direct contrast to the looming effects of the population crisis, the Russian government has defined very specific and ambitious goals for the country. In 2007, Moscow declared that it aims to achieve and maintain an average annual economic growth of 7% per year. This growth will potentially quadruple Russia’s GDP and place the nation as the fifth largest economy in the world by 2020. However, unless the Russian government begins to address the factors causing the population decline, Kremlin’s economic goals will not only become unachievable but will experience a setback, and the country’s role as a key player in the world will diminish.
One of the biggest causes of the decline in population is the shift in family dynamics away from marriage, and the corresponding decrease in child birth. Russia is experiencing a revolution in family values with a significant decrease in the number of couples choosing to get married, and a significant increase in divorce. Since the 1990s, more women have opted for cohabitation before marriage, and often forgone marriage altogether.
In addition to the decline in marriage rates, there is a significant decline in women choosing to have children. The lack of financial security is forcing many Russian women to choose abortion instead of motherhood. Andrei Akopyan, the head doctor at a Moscow reproduction and family planning clinic, predicts that the number of abortions will increase by approximately 11%, which he attributes to current economic woes. In fact, based on results from the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, VCIOM, only 5% of women polled in November 2008 are planning to become pregnant in the next two years. The numbers become even more desperate when considering the rising number of unhealthy babies being born. Only 30% of children born in Russia are healthy; 50% of newborns lack either iodine or calcium, the leading causes of brittle bones and mental retardation; seven in every ten newborns suffer from some kind of disorder; and one in twelve babies is born underweight.
Those women who do choose to give birth face many risks, from losing a job to dying in childbirth. According to the World Health Organization, a Russian woman is six times more likely to die in childbirth than a German woman. Combined with the high chance of giving birth to an unhealthy child and the unstable finances of the majority of the population, it is no wonder the birth rate has decreased.
The crisis only worsens as the death rate (16.06 per one thousand) continues to outnumber the birth rate (11.03 per one thousand). One of the dominant and rising killers is the HIV/AIDS virus. According to 2007 estimates, approximately 940,000 Russian citizens, or 1.1% of the population, are living with HIV/AIDS and the number is increasing exponentially.  Most unfortunate, 80% of the population that will die from the disease will be between 25 and 39 years of age—the prime age for family formation and labor production. In addition, Russia is facing a quickly increasing rise in tuberculosis cases, which nearly quadrupled in the 15-to-17-year-old age group between 1989 and 2002. The death rate from cardiovascular disease is four times, and the death rate from accidents, injuries, homicides, suicides, and other “external causes,” is five times higher than that of the European Union. 
Majority of these health problems and deaths are linked to the biggest problem facing Russia today: alcoholism. Alcoholism or alcohol dependency is a significant factor in two-thirds of deaths for men under the age of 55, given the life expectancy for Russian men is about 61.5 years. Russian women fare slightly better with a life expectancy of 73.9 years. The Russian government is almost blissfully unaware of the health crisis afflicting its citizens; does not have accurate data on the number of people suffering from the major diseases; and is doing very little to curb this horrifying death trend.