Can we manage a declining Russia?

An old woman begs for food on a busy street in Moscow on Feb. 17, 2009.

Article Highlights

  • Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia has been in the grip of an unrelenting demographic crisis

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  • From 1992 to the present, Russia's total population has reportedly fallen by almost 7 million (almost 5%)

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  • Can we manage a declining Russia? @HudsonInstitute

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Can We Manage a Declining Russia? Read the full text of Eberstadt and Shah's paper starting on page 118.

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Over the decades since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation has been in the grip of an unrelenting demographic crisis. Admittedly, "demographic crisis" is a term that is thrown around these days with an all-too-promiscuous-and sometimes quite unwarranted-abandon. But the particulars of the Russian Federation's demographics travails provide empirical demonstration for the proposition that Russian society is beset by severe demographic paroxysms that are directly and adversely affecting both individual wellbeing and economic potential-and will do so for some time to come.

From 1992 to the present, the country's total population has reportedly fallen by almost 7 million (almost 5%).

Since the end of the Soviet era, the Russian Federation has witnessed a pronounced and continuing depopulation: from 1992 to the present, the country's total population has reportedly fallen by almost 7 million (almost 5%), with almost continuous year-on-year population declines. Russia, to be sure, was by no means the only country to experience population decline during these years-but the magnitude of the fall-off was exceptional. In absolute terms, the only drop larger than this one in the postwar era was the bout China suffered in the wake of Mao's catastrophic "Great Leap Forward" campaign (a decline in relative terms roughly similar to Russia's post-Communism population decline to date).

The Russian nation, of course, is no stranger to sudden bouts of depopulation: in fact, it has suffered four of these in the past century alone. The first three of these, however, were the consequences of war, political upheaval, and state-directed violence; depopulation ceased when the afflicting cataclysms abated. Today's depopulation by contrast proceeds in a time of peace-and requirements for reversing it are correspondingly not at all obvious.

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About the Author


  • Nicholas Eberstadt, a political economist and a demographer by training, is also a senior adviser to the National Bureau of Asian Research, a member of the visiting committee at the Harvard School of Public Health, and a member of the Global Leadership Council at the World Economic Forum. He researches and writes extensively on economic development, foreign aid, global health, demographics, and poverty. He is the author of numerous monographs and articles on North and South Korea, East Asia, and countries of the former Soviet Union. His books range from The End of North Korea (AEI Press, 1999) to The Poverty of the Poverty Rate (AEI Press, 2008).


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