RUSSIA: Alarm Over Falling Life Expectancy

IN RECENT MONTHS, BOTH the national and regional press in Russia have been filled with alarming reports on the country’s demographic situation. The State Statistics Committee (Goskomstat) and the government Center for the Economic Situation have predicted that life expectancy for Russians could drop to as low as 58 years by 2000.1 A study released at the beginning of this year by the Population Reference Bureau, a private U.S. research center, calculated that if present trends continued, the Russian population could drop to 126.7 million in 2020, from 148.2 million today.2 While those are worst-case scenarios and unlikely to be realized, there has been a sharp fall in the birthrate and a massive increase in mortality in recent years (see Table 1). As a result of negative natural increase (an excess of deaths over births), the population declined by 920,000 in 1994 – a fall that was not fully compensated for by increasing immigration from other former Soviet republics.3 Life expectancy has now dropped to less than 64 years from more than 70 in 1986-1987.4