“We should not expect a big flow of migrants to Russia. It is necessary to solve problems with birth rate”

Rustem Shayakhmetov, economist from Ufa: why are there fewer births in Russia?

“We should not expect a big flow of migrants to Russia. It is necessary to solve problems with birth rate”
Photo: Ilya Repin

The all-Russian population census in remote and hard-to-reach areas of the country has been launched this month. The main part of the large-scale event is planned for April 2021. The census takers have already gone to the residents of Tuva, Tomsk Oblast and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. By collecting information about citizens, the state will be able to make more balanced strategic decisions on the development of the country and support of the population. Our correspondent talked to Rustem Shayakhmetov, economist and chairperson of the Commonwealth of Large Families of Bashkortostan, about demographic processes in the regions as part of the Realnoe Vremya special project dedicated to the population census.

“The leaders of ethnic regions do not use the capacities of modern technologies very much”

Mr Shayakhmetov, what do you think the census will reveal?

The population census is quite expensive, so it is conducted every ten years. But the information received allows us to get accurate information about the population, its problems, and the real situation. For example, in the vast majority of rural areas and small towns, the population, according to migration records, is significantly overstated. The information does not correspond to reality, as many residents, without being removed from the register, have been living in other places for years. The census will let us know the real picture.

A number of national aspects that are important for our multi-ethnic country will also be identified. The ongoing assimilation processes of the peoples of Russia worry many people, but it is unlikely to stop them.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
Many Bashkirs, Tatars, Chuvash, and other ethnicities do not know their language and Russian is their native language

What problems will the census solve?

The existing reality will be established, and then everything depends on the authorities. Whether they want to solve these problems or shrugs them off. For example, demography. Many problems are known, but not solved. The country's leadership often makes arbitrary decisions without a thorough study of cause-and-effect relationships. As a result, we fight the consequences, but we don't eliminate the causes.

For example, the government suddenly saw the light and saw that the number of first-born children in our country has fallen sharply and immediately took expensive incentive measures to try to change the situation. At the same time, the reasons for what is happening have not been studied.

Why do you think the number of births of these first-born children is decreasing?

The main reason for the decrease in children born first to the mother is a significant reduction in the number of women aged 20-29 years. At the same time, the number of women aged 30-39 years has increased. But 30-year-olds mostly give birth to second or third children. It is necessary to assume that people mostly have children when they have a stable marital relationship, earnings and have a place to live. Therefore, the situation will not change and the fall in the birth rate will continue. Because encouraging women to have their first children does not change women's reproductive behaviour nor motivate women to have second, third, and subsequent children. There may be a slight increase in the birth rate in the next two or three years, but in 2025 we will see the opposite effect.

In Bashkiria, we have already introduced a payment of 300,000 rubles to first-born children, but this did not change the situation. Moreover, the birth rate declined at a faster rate than in other Russian regions. This is because the republican government, under the slogans of introducing targeted social assistance, curtailed state support for families with children. The situation with the birth rate of the urban population of Bashkortostan is particularly alarming. The total birth rate (the number of children born per woman of childbearing age) in 2019 was 1,25, for comparison in Russia — 1,42, in Moscow — 1,41. If Russia does not take urgent and effective measures, we will face extinction.

Photo: Roman Khasaev
If we look at the discussions about migration in developed countries, they mostly argue about the permissible size of migration, the formation of systems to prevent radicals from entering their countries. The world has changed a lot recently, people have become the main resource for development

“Support for large families can increase the birth rate”

In Europe, as far as we know, the birth rate is even lower. However, in terms of living standards, they are superior to us.

Well, this argument is debatable. In the European Union, the birth rate is the same as in Russia. There are countries where the birth rate is lower: for example, Greece, where the total birth rate is 1,2 — this is about the same as the urban population of the Republic of Bashkortostan. However, in France, it is 1,3 times higher than in Russia. It is also necessary to take into account migration, which allows the West to successfully solve demographic problems. In particular, the population of Germany has been growing for 10 years in a row, and this is due to migrants. If we look at the discussions about migration in developed countries, they mostly argue about the permissible size of migration, the formation of systems to prevent radicals from entering their countries. The world has changed a lot recently, people have become the main resource for development, and competition for attracting labour resources is only getting stronger. Every fourth resident of Germany is a migrant, but this does not prevent Germany from being one of the most successful countries in the world, rather the opposite.

Why don't people want to have children?

There are many reasons, but the main ones are material and housing problems. Many are intertwined with each other.

For example, the absence of a partner is strongly associated with migration processes. For example, in rural areas, there are significantly more men than women at the age of active reproductive behaviour, while in urban areas, the opposite is true. If we talk about Bashkiria, the most unfavourable situation is in the Askinsky district, where there are 2,1 men per woman aged 20-24. This does not allow creating families, which leads to a decrease in the birth rate. This factor reduces the birth rate by 5-7%.

But the main reason is the lack of effective support for large families, the main drivers of demographic development. Because to maintain the population size, it is necessary that one woman give birth to more than two children in her lifetime (the total birth rate is 2,15), and this is possible only if there are large families.

The situation is aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic. The population's incomes have significantly decreased, there has been an increase in unemployment, the situation is very unstable, and the prospects are quite gloomy. That's why people start refusing to have children. In 2019, the total birth rate was 1,504, this year the forecast is 1,45, and next year the birth rate will continue to fall.

So, we have decided who is to blame. What should we do now?

Now in Russia, women aged 30-39 years are 1,3 times more than women aged 20-29 years, so the role of 30-year-olds in demography has increased. This reserve should be used now, because in 5-10 years 20-25-year-olds will become 30-35-year-olds and there will be a sharp decline in the population aged 30-39 years.

Photo: Ilya Repin
The situation is aggravated by the coronavirus pandemic. The population's incomes have significantly decreased, there has been an increase in unemployment, the situation is very unstable, and the prospects are quite gloomy

According to VTSIOM research, 28% of families want to have three children, and 14% — four children, but 85% of parents with two children do not plan children in the future. If a woman wants three or four children but does not give birth due to financial situation, housing conditions, or other reasons, with the removal of barriers that prevent the birth of children, she will give birth to a third or fourth, if age and health allow her.

Now the birth of a third and subsequent child is a step into poverty. According to Rosstat research, in order to “make ends meet” when buying the most necessary things, the minimum monthly income of a large family in 2018 was to be about 83,000 rubles, and the disposable monetary income of a large family was about 61,000 rubles. The average per capita income of large families fluctuates around the subsistence minimum. As a result, poor families with many children account for about 30% of poor families with children. At the same time, the share of large families from the number of families with children in Russia is 5,8%. More than half of large families are poor.

Therefore, the provision of material support measures for large families is what now will increase the birth rate.

As for the monthly allowance in the amount of the subsistence minimum for a child born to a third or subsequent child, paid from 3 years to 18 years: now the average per capita income of members of large families is twice less than the average per capita income of a family that gave birth to the first child, and one and a half times less than that of members of a two-child family. The proposed measure will help reduce existing income inequality and give confidence to potential large families that they will have the opportunity to raise their children with dignity.

Payments in the amount of 100,000 rubles for the birth of third and subsequent children will largely cover the family costs associated with the birth of a baby, as a result, in combination with the above measure, it will increase the likelihood of a positive decision by potential parents about the birth of a child.

Photo: Maksim Platonov
Given that housing problems significantly constrain the birth rate, it is necessary to take effective measures

I would also like to mention the benefits of paying for sports clubs and additional education institutions for large families. The income level does not allow most children of large families to use additional education services, sports clubs, participate in paid school events, have bicycles and skates. The proposed support measure will create equal opportunities for children in terms of mental and physical development, regardless of their parents' financial capabilities.

Taking into account that housing problems significantly constrain the birth rate, it is necessary to take effective measures, including timely provision of land for the construction of houses with infrastructure, payment of compensation for rental of residential premises to large families registered as needy, until housing conditions improve.

All of the above will make it possible to achieve the necessary level of birth rate that ensures the existing population of Russia.

“The government refuses to see the obvious”

So the existing measures don't work, do they?

The reformatting of the maternity capital that took place on the basis of an arbitrary decision of the country's leadership is a strategic mistake.

There is a demotivation of families to the birth of second, third and subsequent children. When the first child is born, the family receives 484,000 rubles, and for the second — only 156,000 rubles. This is money that is clearly not an incentive to have second children.

Then everywhere there are reserves, the birth of second and subsequent children has a reserve of at least 35-40%, but the birth of the first child not. There may be a slight shift in the age of the first-born, but it will be insignificant. The first children, if a woman and her partner are healthy, will be born under any circumstances if there is a stable marriage relationship, but the birth of the second, third, and fourth children will occur depending on social support. There have always been and will be childless women, in most cases they do not give birth due to health and lack of a partner. If the urban population is dominated by women, this increases the number of childless women, but this is already a migration policy.

Photo: David Kazansky
Life has changed, and we need to change the system of demographic development. The measures that worked before don't work today, and vice versa

As for the age structure of first-time mothers, I can only say that many demographers and politicians exaggerate the problem of raising the age of women who give birth to their first children. What is happening is natural. People enter into marriage relationships, decide to have children when they have a profession, a job. There has been a change in the way of life, now people later enter into independent life, including the fact that the level of education of the younger generation has increased. Previously, the majority of the population started working at 18-20 years, now — at 22-24 years, before the first children were born at 20-22 years, now — at 26 years. This is not a problem, women at 26 have the same health as at 22. Moreover, if we look at the existing time intervals between the birth of the first and subsequent children, a woman in most cases, if she gives birth to four children, then gives birth to them before the age of 38. Women in their 40s and older are now having more children than women in their 20s. This is a trend that should not be fought, but used. Life has changed, and we need to change the system of demographic development. The measures that worked before don't work today, and vice versa.

By Timur Rakhmatullin
BashkortostanTatarstan