Russia: Rising Ambitions, Sinking Population
Russia is in the midst of a genuine demographic disaster from which its rulers have no obvious exit strategy. Although the Russia’s fortunes (and the Kremlin’s ambitions) have waxed on a decade of windfall profits from oil and gas, the human foundations of the Russian nation — the ultimate sources of the country’s wealth and power — are in increasingly parlous straits.
these crippling health trends augur ill for Russia’s productivity prospects or economic outlook: it is unrealistic to expect Irish standards of living or rates of economic growth from a population facing Indian mortality schedules.
But the economic implications of these trends may be even worse than they appear at first glance. Under current patterns, a 20-year-old man in Russia today stands less than even odds of making it to a notional retirement at age 65. (By contrast, five out of six similar American men can expect to reach their 65th birthday, and the chances are even better in Japan and most of Western Europe.)
With such a brutally high burden of premature mortality and such a radical foreshortening of working life, the cost-benefit calculus for higher education or additional training tilts against investments in knowledge and skills for the work force. Yet in the modern world economy, investments in “human capital” are one of the main engines for stimulating sustained economic growth and eliciting the general spread of national prosperity.
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Because Russia’s health crisis looks so utterly abnormal for an industrialized society, one might assume the problem could be quickly remedied through the usual methods ... But resolving the Russian health crisis will not be that easy ... The trouble is that in the pathological tangle that frames health conditions in modern Russia, the abnormal has become the new norm.
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Given the “negative momentum” in Russian health trends today, gains over the coming generation may be grudging at best. Simply re-attaining their parents’ survival prospects would count as a significant health advance for today’s middle-aged Russians. But if Russian men “succeeded” in that quest, their life expectancy would still be barely 62 years — lower than the current estimated level in impoverished Bangladesh.
If projections by the United Nations Population Division come to pass, Russia’s population will fall by 10 million more from now to 2020. Those same projections envision Russian life expectancy lagging ever further behind global averages by 2020 to 2025, in this view, overall life expectancy in Russia would actually be a year lower than average for the world’s less-developed countries — with the men’s expectancy nearly five years below the third world mean.
Demography may not be destiny, of course. But this is not a portrait of a successfully and rapidly developing economy — much less an emerging economic superpower.