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, 37 (3), 3-44

The Soviet Union: Population Trends and Dilemmas

  • PMID: 12264357

The Soviet Union: Population Trends and Dilemmas

M Feshbach. Popul Bull.


PIP: Focus in this discussion of population trends and dilemmas in the Soviet Union is on demographic problems, data limitations, early population growth, geography and resources, the 15 republics of the Soviet Union and nationalities, agriculture and the economy, population growth over the 1950-1980 period (national trend, regional differences); age and sex composition of the population, fertility trends, nationality differentials in fertility, the reasons for fertility differentials (child care, divorce, abortion and contraception, illegitimacy), labor shortages and military personnel, mortality (mortality trends, life expectancy), reasons for mortality increases, urbanization and emigration, and future population prospects and projections. For mid-1982 the population of the Soviet Union was estimated at 270 million. The country's current rate of natural increase (births minus deaths) is about 0.8% a year, higher than current rates of natural increase in the U.S. (0.7%) and in developed countries as a whole (0.6%). Net immigration plays no part in Soviet population growth, but emigration was noticeable in some years during the 1970s, while remaining insignificant relative to total population size. National population growth has dropped by more than half in the last 2 decades, from 1.8% a year in the 1950s to 0.8% in 1980-1981, due mostly to declining fertility. The national fertility decline masks sharp differences among the 15 republics and even more so among the some 125 nationalities. In 1980, the Russian Republic had an estimated fertility rate of 1.9 births/woman, and the rate was just 2.0 in the other 2 Slavic republics, the Ukraine and Belorussia. In the Central Asian republics the rates ranged up to 5.8. Although the Russians will no doubt continue to be the dominant nationality, low fertility and a relatively higher death rate will reduce their share of the total population by less than half by the end of the century. Soviet leaders have launched a pronatalist policy which they hope will lead to an increase in fertility, at least among the dominant Slavic groups of the multinational country. More than 9 billion rubles (U.S. $12.2 billion) is to be spent over the next 5 years to implement measures aimed at increasing state aid to families with children, to be carried out step by step in different regions of the country. It is this writer's opinion that overall fertility is not likely to increase markedly despite the recent efforts of the central authorities, and the Russian share of the total population will probably continue to drop while that of Central Asian Muslim peoples increases.

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