Makin' Bacon to Save Mother Russia's Demographics

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 3/01/2010 12:02:00 AM
With the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics drawing to a close, the world now sets its sights on the hosts of the next event in Sochi, Russia. Now, hosting Olympics means a lot for the countries that do so, even if it's not always a profitable endeavour. After the dismantling of the former Soviet Union, Russia has undoubtedly been in the wilderness for quite some years. In 1998, the humiliation of this former "superpower" was complete when it was forced to the poorhouse--i.e., the IMF as oil prices fell near the $10/bbl mark in the wake of the Asian financial crisis. Unfortunately, it seems Russia's fortunes are still intimately tied to commodity prices. It is no surprise that Russia's fortunes have dimmed somewhat in light of softening commodity prices (witness continuing troubles with "monotowns"). Still commodity prices remain elevated by historical standards.

The Financial Times has an interesting section on "Building BRICs" which places the most doubts on the future prospects of budding developing country titans Brazil, Russia, India, and China on Russia. Aside from Russia's rather undiversified economy, there's the pressing matter of unfavourable demographics which are even more pressing than China's case since falling population size has been a well-entrenched feature for Russia. Russia greeted the news that its population did not shrink in 2009 for the first time since 1995 with some relief, though trends are still very much against it.

Certainly, there have been concerted efforts by Putin & Co. to improve demographic trends in Russia by extolling natalist policies and bombarding the populace with images of--you guessed it--big, happy families. Nina Kouprianova provides a colourful account of Russian leadership's evolving attitudes towards child-rearing since the days of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Here is an excerpt concerning how modern advertising techniques are being used to get the message across:
More specifically, Russians are also rather conservative when it comes to marriage and children, despite the high divorce rate. So, it’s not surprising that the subjects of demographics, child rearing, a woman’s traditional role in the home, and even adoptions and surrogate motherhood receive extensive coverage in countless television miniseries, soaps, silly gossip talk shows, serious political programs, and “public service” advertising on major state-funded channels. For example, eligible bachelorettes and bachelors on a popular award-winning show “Let’s Get Married!” on state channel 1 systematically mention a multi-child family as their primary goal for resorting to television dating.

Yet, the most explicit pro-natalist messages appear within the confines of the 75-year old architectural wonder of the world—the Moscow metro system. This type of advertising grabs the attention of over six million people (90% of users), according to the recent study conducted by TNS Gallup Media. Long escalator rides deep underground and even longer commutes across the city make billboards on walls and posters inside trains simply unavoidable. One frequently encountered advertisement features colorful matryoshka nesting dolls and reads, “’Love for the Motherland begins with family’—F. Bacon.”
Speaking of bacon, now we have Men's Health wannabe Vladimir Putin extolling the (temporarily?) improving picture for Russian demographics. Yes, matters would be greatly improved if many more Russian men had Putin-like fitness, but he's trumpeting improvements nonetheless. From RIA Novosti:
The natural decline of Russia's population in 2009 went down by almost a third, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Tuesday. "We have the following final data: birth rate grew by 2.9%, death rate reduced by 3%. The population's natural decline went down by 31%," Putin told the inner Cabinet.

Health and Social Development Minister Tatyana Golikova said child mortality in Russia decreased by 3.5%, cardiovascular diseases' toll went down by 4.6%, and the TB death rate declined 7.8% last year. She added that the government was still waiting for final figures on immigration and emigration, but preliminary numbers showed that Russia's population increased during 2009 - the first gains since 1995.

In January, [the] government proposed new measures to fight the low birthrate and dwindling population that experts warn endangers economic growth, the country's role in world affairs and even its territorial integrity. A recent United Nations report indicates that the Russian population will fall from 142 million in 2008 to 116 million by 2050 unless action is taken to reverse current trends.

Russia has implemented a raft of policies as part of efforts to arrest the decline, which has accelerated since the collapse of the Soviet Union and ensuing economic hardships, aiming to keep the numbers at 142-143 million people by 2015 and ensure an increase to 145 million by 2025.

President Dmitry Medvedev, who oversaw ambitious welfare projects driven by a recent economic boom as first deputy premier, has spearheaded measures to support foster families, develop preschool education, and promote a healthy lifestyle.

Programs the government has launched to tackle the demographic crisis include incentive payments for second births. Posters like those depicting a young woman with three babies and reading "Love for your nation starts with love for family" have been widespread.
It's interesting how Russia ties not only economic growth but also global prominence and security to population size. Being a sceptical sort, I'd still wait and see whether these temporarily improving trends can continue in the next few years to see if these demographic woes are starting to abate. Certainly, Russia's BRICs status hinges on it as much as it does on future commodity prices.