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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2002 Census Shows Empty Villages and Empty Nests

More than 13,000 Russian villages are inhabited only by ghosts. Nobody lives in them any more, according to preliminary results of the 2002 census.

Nearly 35,000 villages have no more than 10 inhabitants, according to the census results, which were posted on the State Statistics Committee's web site late last week.

Between 1959 and 1989, Russia's population grew by 10 million people for every decade, from 117 million to 147 million, despite a migration of Russians to other Soviet republics. But in 1992, deaths began to outnumber births so dramatically that even an influx of 11 million immigrants could not prevent a population decline. The 2002 census, conducted in October, counted 145.2 million people, down 1.3 percent from the last census in 1989.

The flow of immigrants, which hit its peak in 1994 with 811,000 people, slowed to 76,000 in 2002, the census showed.

A steadily falling birth rate among Russian women is one main cause of the population decline. In 1962, there were an average 2.4 births per 100 women of childbearing age, but by 2000 the rate had halved, to 1.2, according to Moscow's Institute of General Genetics.

A birth rate of 2.2 or more is required to avoid a decrease in population, said Yelena Pobedonostseva, a researcher at the institute.

In 1992, for the first time since World War II, more Russians died than were born, she said. In the years since, the gap grew from 220,000 people in 1992 to a record 677,000 in 2000.

Pobedonostseva said the growing gap was explained not only by the falling birth rate but by lower life expectancy due to poorer health, environmental pollution and holes in the social safety net after the Soviet collapse.

"Speaking in numbers, Russia falls in the same pattern as West European countries, which also have a low birth rate and high influx of migrants," said Valery Stepanov of the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology. "But Russia has a specific mortality picture: The portion of young males among the dead is extremely high."

Women outnumbered men by 10.1 million in 2002, with males making up 46.5 percent of the total population, according to the State Statistics Committee. However, this appears characteristic of Russia: In four previous postwar censuses, the ratio of males oscillated near 45 percent.

The report on the preliminary results of the census showed that the population decline was most dramatic in remote northern regions.

In Chukotka, the population shrank to one-third of 1989 figures, and in Magadan it was more than cut in half. The statistics committee says the decline is due to mass migration to central Russia.

The population declined in 64 other regions, although less sharply, and grew in 23 regions, mainly in central and southern Russia. The greatest growth, 43 percent, was in Dagestan.

Chechnya, taken together with Ingushetia, with which it constituted a single republic in Soviet times, was a controversial second with 23 percent. Census takers counted 1.1 million people in Chechnya, about twice as many as reported when the second military campaign began there in 1999. Human rights groups have expressed skepticism about the number, and say they suspect it was inflated by the republic's pro-Moscow authorities to attract greater federal funds for social programs.

Of Russia's 155,290 villages, more than half are abandoned or nearly so. In addition to the 13,032 that are empty and 34,803 with up to 10 inhabitants, 37,337 have no more than 50 people living in them. Even so, the share of the population living in cities -- 73 percent -- has not changed since 1989.