Population decline: comparing Russia and Ukraine

In our new demography series we compare population growth for sets of countries, based on the UN World Population Prospects 2010 Revision, which was released last month. To better illustrate that global population growth is far from uniform, today we take a look at negative numbers.

There are currently 16 nations in the world that have a declining population. With the exception of two US island territories, all these dwindling populations are European. And with the exception of Germany all are Eastern European (using the broad definition of ‘east of the former Iron Curtain’).

The biggest two are Russia and Ukraine – big in area that is. Because although Russia used to be a world player in every field, it’s population curve saw a sudden trend breach in the early nineties, coinciding with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ever since, there’s been a steady decline, and that is not caused by emigration, but simply by death rates that are substantially higher than birth rates: in 2010 per thousand Russians there were 1.7 more deaths than births.

Male life expectancy

The life expectancy in Russia is much lower for men than for women. The average Russian man dies at the age of 61.6. That is below, well, most countries – but including countries with totalitarian regimes and countries that reach the global news daily as conflict zones: Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Iran, the Palestinian Territories and North Korea.

As life expectancy does not imply all people die at that exact same age, some Russian men grow old – where others die much younger, possibly before starting a family. This is reflected in the low fertility: the average Russian woman gives birth to just 1.44 children, well below the replacement level [but critically higher than for instance in Germany, where just 1.36 children are being born, per woman].

The Russian decline

All in all the Russian population declines by 0.1 percent per year. If that sounds better than expected to you, you may want to take a look at the graph below [from 2009, by the Russian state statistics service Rosstat] to see how complex demography can actually get, as there are always different sine charts interplaying.

Russia: population growth and population decline

It is by no means our intention to make demography difficult – to the contrary. We feel you get the most relevant picture by zooming to the right timescale: decades that is.

In 1990 there were 148 million people in Russia. Between 1990 and 2010 the population declined by 5 million people. Russia, the biggest by surface area, today still ranks 9th in population size – although it has already been overtaken by (much smaller) countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria.

By 2050 Russia will have dropped to the 14th place and also countries like Tanzania, Congo and Ethopia will have surpassed its population in size.

By 2100 Russia ranks only just 22nd, with even small African countries like Uganda [83 times smaller in land area] already surpassing the Russian population by more than a third. Also Egypt, Sudan, Niger, Kenya, Zambia and even Malawi will have more inhabitants at the end of this century.

While all of these countries see explosive population growth the Russian population will have declined by some 17 percent towards 2050 and about a quarter by 2100.

Ukraine’s population decline

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s demographics are even unhealthier than Russia’s. While Russia lost 5 million people between 1990 and 2010, the Ukranian population went from 52 million people in 1990 to 45 million in 2010, a decline of 7 million people – and much larger relative to size.

The Ukranian male life expectancy is with 61.8 years almost equally low as the Russian (where the female life expectancy is lower in the Ukraine (73.5) than in Russia (74.0)).

The average Ukrainian woman gives birth to just 1.39 children, leading to a current population decline of 0.6 percent per year, much faster than Russia. Only Moldova, Bulgaria and Georgia presently have a faster annual population decline.

The Ukranian population too is forecast to decline further over the coming decades, to anywhere near 36 million people in 2050 and another 6 million fewer by the end of this century.

Ukraine's population decline

© Rolf Schuttenhelm | www.bitsofscience.org

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