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Russia's population falling fast

BBC News | June 24, 2005
By Steven Eke

Russia's population decline is accelerating, according to the country's official statistics agency.

According to their calculations, the decline is equivalent to 100 people dying in Russia every hour.

The subject has received international attention, with the UN warning that Russia's population could fall by a third by the middle of the century.

Experts have suggested economic growth and better living standards would reverse the slump.

Russian statisticians say the improving economy is having no impact on the country's historically low birth-rate and declining population.

Life expectation gap

The number of Russians living in poverty has halved in recent years, yet most regions in the country still report far more deaths than births.

Statistically, a baby boy born in Russia today is unlikely to see his 60th birthday.

Moreover, he is likely to die from lifestyle-related diseases considered preventable in the West.

These headline grabbing facts appear to reflect complicated, longer-term trends.

Many Russian politicians say the country's political and social upheavals are to blame.

It is certainly true that millions of Russians were thrown into poverty by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

But many western demographers say there is no specifically Russian phenomenon, just a continuation of trends that began in the country in the 1960s.

An increasing gap between the West and the then-USSR in terms of life expectancies had been noted 40 years ago.

Simple solutions?

Many solutions to the problem have been proposed, ranging from family-friendly tax breaks to legalising polygamy.

Large-scale immigration, touted as a solution to declining workforces in western nations, would be unacceptable to most Russians.

Instead, bodies like the World Health Organization and the UN have called on the Russian government to take the problem more seriously.

They stress that a number of simple, if unpopular, measures, such as putting up the price of alcohol or forcing people to wear seatbelts, might make a lasting difference.

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