Population Decline (In Russia) Becomes Top Priority

May 11, 2006: Population Decline (In Russia) Becomes Top Priority

POSTED ON 11/05/06

Population decline becomes top priority

MOSCOW — For the second year in a row, Russia's President used his state-of-the-nation speech yesterday to focus attention on his country's acute demographic problem. For the first time, however, Vladimir Putin described several detailed policies he hopes will address it.

The World Bank estimates Russia's population could decline from 143 million to 100 million within the next half-century. Mr. Putin said the decrease already amounts to 700,000 people a year, but some experts say it's higher.

Among the three driving factors behind the losses — low birth rates, short life expectancy and low immigration — most demographers suggest immigration is the easiest to fix. No developed country with educated women has had much success encouraging families to have more children, and solving the problems of illness, alcohol, violence, suicide, accidents and other deadly influences in Russian society could take many years.

“As regards the migration policy, attracting our compatriots from abroad remains the top priority,” Mr. Putin said. “In this, it is necessary to create ever more incentives for the inflow into the country of qualified migrants: educated and law-abiding people. People coming to settle in Russia should treat Russian culture and our national traditions with respect.”

The reference to compatriots suggests Mr. Putin prefers to lure ethnic Russians from the former Soviet Union, rather than allowing a system of large-scale immigration of the kind that eases demographic problems in the West.

“No migration will solve our demographic problems unless we create the appropriate conditions and incentives to increase the birth rate here, at home, in our own country,” Mr. Putin added.

The President outlined a 10-year program, taking effect Jan. 1, 2007, to pay women who have children.

Women will get a one-time payment of at least 250,000 rubles, worth more than $10,000 Canadian, after the birth of their second child, Mr. Putin said.

Also, monthly allowances for mothers will almost double, from 800 rubles to 1,500 for one child and 3,000 for two.