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Hudson Institute
American Outlook
January 28, 2003
Russian Depopulation Is a Lesson for the West
By Herbert I. London

Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and the John M. Olin

Professor of Humanities at New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial, recently published by Lexington Books. You may visit Herb's website at www.herblondon.org

As the Wall Street Journal noted on January 24, The worlds population could decline by nearly 500 million people by 2075. As notable as this statistic is, it pales in comparison to the demographic condition in Russia at the moment.

The most recent predictions indicate a decline in the Russian population of twenty million people in the next decade due to an excessively low birthrate of 1.2 children per family (well below replacement level) and a rise in the death rate because of widespread alcoholism and the spread of disease.

According to one Professor Antonov, Two thirds of Russian territory is settled now as sparsely as it was in the Neolithic Age: less than one person per square kilometer. In other words, east of the Urals, a demographic wasteland is superimposed on the geographic wasteland.

What this startling point reveals is a dramatic decline in the desire for reproduction among the younger generation. The prevalence of one-child families, the decline in the number of recorded marriages, the increase in cohabitation, and the rise in divorce are all symptoms of this condition.

While some sociologists contend that demographic equilibrium or some transformative event will change current attitudes toward reproduction, this belief is not borne out by the virtual breakdown of the traditional family. Most theorists fail to see the need for action to reconcile the desire of the individual with the interests of the society, perhaps a pro-natalist policy. However, even policy prescriptions do not automatically result in increased fertility rates.

Moreover, a belief is emerging virtually unchallenged in social science that divorce and only-children families are actually desirable conditions that must be protected. An undeclared war is being conducted against those who identify a crisis in the family and a resulting demographic implosion.

In Russia, if nothing dramatic occurs to encourage larger families, the retreat from childbearing will continue and accelerate. Two children in a family will certainly no longer be the norm and, as a consequence, Russia could become a nation of only one hundred million in thirty years (it is about 149 million today).

Most significantly, depopulation could decide Russias geopolitical fate. A decline of fifty million people could undermine the territorial integrity of that vast nation. Similarly, a population decline of such magnitude would undermine any effort to create industrial market capitalism, which depends on mass production and mass markets.

It is instructive that sociologists have not commented on the social consequences of school closings, the reduction in demand for childrens goods and services, the transfer of people out of the education sector, and the restructuring of the labor market.

Yet far more troubling is the social atmosphere that accompanies the collapse of the family. The signs are already clear: a revision in cultural perspectives has led to an unprecedented level of prestige bestowed on homosexual behavior as well as evidence of an increased rate of suicide. These conditions not only threaten the familial foundation of civilization, but human self-preservation itself.

Russia, and arguably much of the West, is in the midst of an historic revolution that is weakening the family, devaluing the role of children, and threatening depopulation. Norms are changing and will change further as this demographic condition gains a head of steam.

It is no exaggeration to contend that Russias future, and perhaps the fate of other nations, depends on the restoration of family- and child- centered lives. A relentless drive for consumer gratification and self-fulfillment have taken us down a path that threatens societal well being.

If Russia is thought of as a prototypean exemplar of what could happen elsewhereperhaps policies can be endorsed that are pro-family and that alert the public to the danger of rapid depopulation and the erosion of societys foundational institutions. If that return to normalcy doesnt happen, the consequences may be very dire indeed.

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