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Thoughts on Russian demography

From: "Sergey Slobodyan" <Sergey.Slobodyan@cerge-ei.cz>
Subject: Thoughts on Russian demography
Date: Mon, 17 Oct 2011

(Absence of) Smog and Heat waves.

July 2011 was the second hottest in history (after July 2010) in Moscow, with average temperature anomaly of +5.2°. There were no new temperature records, however, in contrast to July 2010 which saw 10 of them. The effect on mortality was immediate: 8906 deaths vs. 14340 in July 2010, almost 40% drop. The 2011 number for Moscow is even lower than in July 2009! What I don't have is the information on the number of "heat wave" days, when the temperature is higher than the long-run average by 5 degrees for at least five consecutive days. Still, the numbers are very suggestive ­ it's the fact that July 2010's heat wave was so extreme (average monthly temperature anomaly of +7.8°) plus smog from fires that killed a number of people. If the fires are kept under control, we won't see such a disaster in the near future. Another place where July 2011 was extremely hot is in Volgograd ­ 2011 was even hotter than 2010, with 9 temperature records. In the region, deaths in July fell by 8% relative to 2010. It's the smog that kills, not the heat wave itself.

Data for August 2011 confirms this conclusion. Moscow saw another almost 40% drop in number of deaths relative to the previous year. No smog ­ no catastrophe.

Expectations and Outcomes.

As was widely reported, August 2011 saw more births than any other month since 1991. The month was so successful that the whole summer 2011 (June to August) saw a natural population increase: about 476.5 thousand born and 475.9 thousand died during this time. And this despite the fact that August 2011 was not exactly stellar on the mortality front: at 162.4 thousand deaths, it is worse than Augusts of 2008 and 2009. This could be due to natural variability, of course: all other months of 2011 but May had mortality lower than in corresponding months of the previous years.

As two thirds of the year are already behind us, it's possible to be more certain in projections. With deaths running about 3.5-5% lower than in 2009, it's hard to see the 2011 total above 1950 thousand barring widespread natural calamities such as once-in-a-lifetime cold November. Most probably, it will be somewhat below 1950. Number of births was about 2.8% lower than in 2010 before August but is just 1.3% below when the August data got in; for the whole year, something between 1740 and 1760 thousand could be expected, then. Both numbers, if realized, would fit very nicely with middle scenario Rosstat's forecast for 2011: 1747 thousand births and 1952 deaths. Which, given that 2011 Russian population was higher than the estimate used in Rosstat's demographic projections, would result in something like 1.55-1.56 for TFR and life expectancy (for both genders) crossing 70 years. It would have been easier if we knew TFR and life expectancy for 2010 already ­ typically, these numbers are available since middle of the next year's summer ­ but this year the data was delayed, probably because of the extra workload related to the Census. It is also possible that the life expectancy won't change much in 2012 relative to 2011, as Russia switches to the full WHO definition of life births which might increase measured infant mortality by up to 25% to above 9 per 1000 live births, which would then subtract several months from life expectancy at birth.

Counting the migrants.

The year 2011 so far has seen a dramatic decrease in the degree to which migration increase compensates for the natural population loss. For example, there was +51325 net migration in the first half of 2011 vs +89574 in 2010H1. The true situation, however, might be very different.

In general, Rosstat uses two sources for counting the migrants: people receiving , or permit for temporary stay (for 1 year or longer), and those registered at the abode ( ). It does seem that back in 2010, Rosstat was using the first number as a measure of international migration: the number for 'migration increase' in Table 3 for 2010H1 (51850) is essentially the number one could glean from the figure showing 'International migration' in the standard monthly demographic report, http://www.gks.ru/bgd/regl/b10_01/IssWWW.exe/Stg/d04/4-0.htm. However, starting from 2011, it started to distinguish the two numbers. For example, in 2011H1 the total net international migration equals 60697 while the number of those registered at the abode is just +24800. The latter number is then cited as a significant decrease in the number of migrants. The justification for the switch is that from 2011, those obtaining a temporary permit for 9 months or more are counted in the total number. At a stroke of a pen, the migration numbers between 2010 and 2011 are made incompatible.

If I were to take the data at the face value, there are huge numbers of international migrants who obtain permit for temporary stay for a term that is higher than 9 months and less than a year ­ in 2010, there was no visible gap. One would need a thorough understanding of the propiska system to see if this makes sense ­ is it easier to spend 11 months rather than a year in Russia for a foreigner?

An alternative explanation is simpler. On the one hand, Rosstat has undercounted migrants, as evidenced by the preliminary results of the 2010 Census when almost a million extra Russian residents were suddenly found on the territory. Rosstat was then subjected to a withering critique from many circles, including demographers, who claimed that in particular Moscow population was over-counted. In addition, nationalist tensions are increasing in Moscow to the point when according to some polls hostile intentions towards migrants are almost twice as prevalent as in the regions, and all parties ­ including United Russia ­ are using nationalistic card to a larger or smaller extent in the 2011 elections. I cannot exclude political pressure being put on Rosstat to artificially reduce the migrant numbers, at least for the time being (until the elections). Non-transparent and very vague way in which this switch is described by Rosstat (or, rather, not described) and by Demoscope.ru, makes me strongly suspicious that this assumption is correct.

Some numbers to confirm my suspicions. About 15 thousand kids in schools and kindergartens of Moscow can't speak Russian, as was reported by a number of media outlets including Lenta.ru on Sep 29, 2011. Most of those kids are recent arrivals ­ otherwise, they would speak Russian already (in my personal experience, not more than a year is needed for children at age 12 and below for picking up a language, and parents are trying to let older kids finish the school in the place where they do know the language). But there should be anything between 30 and 100 thousand parents of those kids, all arriving to Moscow in very recent years, and all long-term migrants (not many parents in their right mind will bring a kid to a school for less than a year). Somehow, these 15 thousand non-Russian speaking kids in Moscow alone don't square with just 25 thousand migrants newly arrived to Russia as a whole in 2011. Therefore, I'm awaiting for a new switch in methodology some time after the elections, when we would learn that migration flows are in fact much larger than reported now.

Misleading data watch: The Atlantic

It is almost funny watching efforts of certain unnamed circles which purport to show that Russian demographic situation is uniquely dire. Remember an 'abortion epidemics' story in early 2009? Fake data generated by a single software robot, the story killed immediately by bloggers but revived through fake 'Live Journal user's stories' and selectively quoted interviewees? And then washing over the Russian media as tsunami? Or the events of last summer, when the Population Reference Bureau had a press-conference to announce the release of the 2010 World Population Data Sheet? Somehow, the press-release that went into Russian media cited the correct date for the event, but incorrect data which was taken from an older Data Sheet ­ after all, what's a year or two between gentlemen?

Ben W. Heineman Jr., writing for The Atlantic, "Russia's Worsening Demographic Crisis", (JRL 2011-#183, 4) makes a titanic effort to continue the noble tradition of lying by (almost) telling the truth. Consider these passages:

"Male life expectancy in Russia today is approximately 60 years". Yes, at 62.8 years it should be rounded down to 60 rather than up to 70, but it's about the first time in my life I see such a coarse grid for this important number. In fact, you could fit the whole remarkable history of Russian males' life expectancy since 1990 (63.8 years in 1990, 57.6 in 1994, 58.6 in 2003, 62.8 in 2009) into this definition. Why not say "somewhat more than 50" for a more dramatic effect ­ fifty being such a nice round number?

"Together these have led to a decline in Russian population from 148.6 million in 1993 after the breakup of the Soviet Union, to 146 million at the beginning of the 21st century, to somewhere between 139 and 143 million today." You have to really, really enjoy the symphony with which these guys are working. Just a day before, Moscow News reported that as of July 2011, CIA World Factbook has put Russian population at 138.7 million (JRL 2011-#182, 5). One has to remember that CIA, as opposed to World Bank, IMF, Population Reference Bureau, or UN Population Division, never reports its methodology. Occasionally, they simply forget to update their database: for example, in 2008 they forgot to list the number for Russian GDP measured in current USD (1,660 billion) and let the previous year's number (1,299 billion) hang out there for the whole year. One has to congratulate Mr. Heineman for a judicious choice of his data sources.

It gets only better. "Putin's policy initiatives in 2006 were aimed at increasing the average birth rate by providing incentives and subsidies... The result appears to be an increase in the birth rate from 1.34 to 1.42" Amazing. Should I say it's again the CIA which reports the number 1.42 as "2011 estimate" when in fact the number reported by Rosstat is 1.54 for 2009?

"The Russia Balance Sheet (published in 2009 by the Peterson Institute for International Economics and the Center for Strategic and International Studies),..."

"The UN Population Division estimated several years ago that Russian population in the year 2025 -- one year after President Putin would complete two six-year terms -- would continue to decline dramatically, settling in a range from 121 million to 136 million. The U.S. Census Bureau, in another study several years old, estimated that the Russian population would be 128 million in that year. However, according to published reports, Russian state statistical authorities say that the 2025 population could be in the high 130 millions (lower than present, but not much lower), while the Ministry of Economic Development optimistically states (hopes) that population decline will stop in about 10 years and return to current levels by 2025."

Exactly why one should be using such an old data ­ and comparing the forecasts made at different points in time without really saying this - escapes me. I hope Mr. Heineman Jr. is not basing his investment decisions on advices his broker has produced "several years ago". Yes, it is true that UN Population Division used to produce highly pessimistic forecasts for Russian population in 2025. The latest report (World Population Prospects: 2010 Revision) gives 139 million as Russian population in 2025 in its medium variant and 133.6 in the low one; the data is freely available. I fail to see the difference between UN and Rosstat's projections ­ maybe, I wouldn't get into The Atlantic with my obsolete data skills?

Mentions of outdated demographic numbers for Russia in English speaking press clearly violate stochastic independence. These birdies do flock together. I've got more popcorn and will be watching for other places where the magic number '139' makes its appearance in the near future. (I'm afraid I'm getting overweight from all this watching, alas!)

Russia, Population Disaster, Demographics - Russian News - Russia - Johnson's Russia List

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