Russia is Sick and Dying

For those of you who regularly read my blog, congratulations! Aside from the warm glow inside that comes from the satisfaction of a job well done, you’ll also know that we have in the past mentioned that Russia’s demographic future is not particularly rosy.

I want to share with you a review article by a Master of International Affairs Candidate at Columbia University, Alina Smyslova, who also happens to be Russian. The anguish felt by the writer as she surveys Russia’s demographic malaise is almost palpable. “Our dear Mother Russia is sick and dying” is how the article begins and there is little that follows that doesn’t back up that startling statement.  While I knew that Russia was suffering from a lack of births and even a surfeit of deaths to births in the last twenty years or so, I hadn’t realized just how unhealthy the population that has managed to be born and hasn’t died yet is. According to Smyslova:

“Only 30% of children born in Russia are healthy; 50% of newborns lack either iodine or calcium, the leading causes of brittle bones and mental retardation; seven in every ten newborns suffer from some kind of disorder; and one in twelve babies is born underweight.”

Furthermore, the chances of dying in childbirth are six times that for a German woman.

“Combined with the high chance of giving birth to an unhealthy child and the unstable finances of the majority of the population, it is no wonder the birth rate has decreased.”

Aside from the lack of healthy babies and the risk to expectant mothers, the picture is as bleak when we look at the prevalence of disease.  While 1.1% of the Russian population is living with HIV/AIDS and the number of tuberculosis cases in the 15 to 19 year old age group nearly quadrupled between 1989 and 2002 and

“…the death rate from cardiovascular disease is four times, and the death rate from accidents, injuries, homicides, suicides, and other ‘external causes,’ is five times higher than that of the European Union.”

Part (a large part) of the problem can be laid at the door of alcohol and alcoholism.  Alcoholism and alcohol dependency are significant factors in two-thirds of deaths for men under the age of 55 in Russia, a high amount considering that the average Russian man only lives to be 61.5 years old.

What does this all mean for the future of mother Russia?  According to Smyslova, the health crisis in Russia affects the economy in three ways: it decreases per capita output (as more people are more sick more often) and decreases consumer spending as people save more or spend on medicine and medical care instead. Secondly, a high death rate makes it unprofitable to invest in higher education and additional training for the workforce.  Finally, a declining population can affect offshore investment decisions.  As Deutsche Bank economist Markus Jaeger explained:

“Where will the investor choose to invest?  In India or China, where the income per capita grows together with the population, or in Russia, where the income per capita is growing, but the consumer market is shrinking?”

Furthermore, the Russian military will also be affected by the lack of educated conscripts and recruits:

“The historically great Russian military will see a significant decrease in healthy, educated, and competent conscripts to fulfil the ambitious goals of Putin and his cabinet. In 2004, only 43% of those joining the navy finished high school and only 13% received higher education degrees.  While the rest of the world is relying on more technologically advanced and intelligence focused security measures, Russian army will grow weaker as less and less of those enrolled are skilful enough to learn to operate the advanced computers, weapons, and other technologies necessary to protect the country in an ever advancing world.”

Unless Russia confronts its high mortality rate and low birth rate and horrendous health statistics, it will slowly slip further and further behind.  In the future we may be forced to speak of the “BIC” rather than the “BRIC” economies and watch as Russia slowly decays.

This article was originally published on under a Creative Commons Licence.

Michael Cook


Michael Cook is the editor of He earned a BA at Harvard University and later moved to Australia where he pursued a career in journalism.

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