In his interview with the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily, Igor Efremov, Researcher of the International Department of Demography and Human Capital of the Gaidar Institute shared his views on the impact of the developments of the past seven months on a future birth rate in Russia.

The implications of the developments of February and, particularly, September will probably present the most serious demographic challenge to Russia in the latest history. The RF Ministry of Health advises doctors to speak with women about the joy of motherhood, while FOM, the Obschestvennoe Mnenie (Public Opinion) Fund has registered households’ high level of anxiety. According to the Gaidar Institute’s forecasts, in 2023 the overall birth rate may fall to 1.3–1.39 children per woman, an index value typical of the countries with the lowest fertility rate in the world, while the number of births may amount to less than 1.2 mn, the worst index value in modern Russia.

“The developments of the past seven months in Russia have undoubtedly affected a future birth rate. The first negative implications will be evident as early as this December, while later they will only increase,” Igor Efremov told the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily.

By Igor Efremov’s estimates, in 2022 the number of births will decrease by 6%-8% as compared with the previous year to about 1.3 mn, while the overall birth rate is to decline from 1.51 children per woman in 2021 to about 1.45 children per woman in 2022 with the fact that for natural reproduction of new generations Russia needs a birth rate of 2.1 children per woman.

Igor Efremov notes that the current blow at the birth rate will add to the “echo” of the demographic pitfall of 1990-2000. “In light of this, we can expect that the overall birth rate will fall even further next year and in the best-case scenario will vary in the range of 1.3–1.39 children per woman, that is, close to birth rate indices of countries with the world’s lowest fertility rate, while the number of births is expected to be below 1.2 mn, the lowest ratio in Russia’s modern history,” Igor Efremov predicts.

Igor Efremov has explained that the direct impact of the partial military mobilization on the birth rate will depend on the number of those mobilized and the length of their mobilization. “If the scale of mobilization does not surpass the level promised by the authorities and mobilized citizens return home before the end of the year, the direct effect on the birth rate will be small,” Igor Efremov notes. Also, Igor Efremov pays attention to the fact that “an allegedly large-scale outflow of men abroad” is often of a speculative and even panic nature.

However, the September developments have also had an indirect effect resulting in a disruption of families’ everyday life and plans for the future, Igor Efremov explains. By expert estimates, this effect “has already inflicted a serious damage to a future birth rate and the longer the mobilization lasts, the more serious this damage will be.” Igor Efremov added that the frequently used phrase “to stimulate the birth rate” does not reflect correctly the demographic situation. According to Egor Efremov, in Russia most families decide themselves whether to have children or not and the desired number of children in Russian families has sustainably been at the level ensuring a natural reproduction of the population: over two children per family. The problem is that “families cannot afford to have the desired number of children because of various barriers.” Even successful initiatives have been recently adjusted in the wrong way, the expert says. Igor Efremov means “a shift of a larger portion of the maternity capital from a second child to the first one.” According to him, “this will largely decrease the chances that families will have a second child and subsequent children in future” and turn an effective demographic policy instrument into an ordinary social support measure.

According to the RF Labor Ministry’s statement last week, in 2023 the size of the maternity capital will amount to Rb589,500 for the first child and Rb779,000 for a second one. However, if the family has already applied for the maternity capital for the first child, the size of the payment for a second child will be equal only to Rb 189,500. It is worth mentioning that before 2020 a substantial sum was granted to families at birth of a second child and subsequent children, while at present the main portion of support has shifted to the birth of the first child and when a second child is born the family receives only a small supplement to the first payment.

“Before the partial mobilization, demographic policy mistakes could have been corrected by means of shifting the entire volume of the maternity capital to birth of a second child and introducing at least a comparable support measure at birth of a third child,” Igor Efremov believes. In new realities, instead of targeted measures the government will have to ensure families a stable multi-year horizon of planning and growth in real incomes.