State Demography Policy Won't Work, UN Warns

The United Nations cautioned Friday that the government's demographic policy would fall far short of its goal of stabilizing a rapid decrease in the country's population, which could contract by 10 million to 20 million people over the next 16 years.

Presenting the results of the 2008 United Nations Human Development Report for Russia, the report's authors said the government needed to take more than just fertility into account if it wanted to mitigate the effects of a demographic crisis.

"We need to overcome the widely held and simple idea that fertility rates are easy to control and will change according to the amount of social investment put into the promotion of birth," said Sergei Zakharov, deputy director of the Institute of Demography at the High School of Economics.

Central to Russia's demographic policy, which was adopted in 2007, are "family capital" provisions. For every second child, a mother now receives 300,000 rubles ($9,040) in so-called maternity payments. The funds, however, cannot be used immediately. They must remain in the bank for three years, or, as of this year, be used in full to pay off mortgages.

While Russia saw the number of births in 2007 rise slightly, the UN report says the money-for-birth model "usually causes only short-term surges and shifts in timing of births. ... International experts regard such payments as least efficient from the point of view of long-term influence on fertility."

The vast majority of Russians are also unswayed by the payments. In a survey included in the report, 81 percent of Russian respondents said the maternity payments and other pro-family measures adopted in 2007 have "no effect" on their decisions to have children. Only 1 percent said, "We will surely have more children than planned before."

The report also emphasized the need for the state to focus on increasing the low life expectancy of Russian males, improving its migration policy to help compensate for dwindling birth rates and adapting its institutions to better serve a mushrooming aging population.

By 2025, the State Statistics Service estimates, the country will lose 14 million people from its working-age population, while the number of retirees will increase by 5 million people.

The population fell by more than 12 million people from 1992 to 2008, making the current population about 142 million.