Konstantin Kazenin, senior researcher at the Center for Political Economy and Regional Development of the Gaidar Institute, explained to theProfile magazine the reasons why the birth rate is declining in Russia and pointed out the necessity to eliminate the systemic errors that reduce the effectiveness of measures designed to support families with children.

The birth rate decline observed since 2015 has to do not only with the increasingly unfavorable trends in the economy, but also with the changes that have occurred over the last 25-30 years in the reproductive behavior of Russians, Konstantin Kazenin believes. The latter can be explained, more likely, by the serious restructuring of the younger generation’s life strategies and value shifts, rather than by any changes in the economic situation.

“Essentially, this is a switchover to more conscious parenthood, when childbearing is no longer a must-have component of a mandatory life program. The decision to have a child is increasingly being made with due regard for a broader range of factors, including both the ability of parents to provide quality education (and in this respect, judging by sociological studies, the bar is constantly being raised) and their career aspirations, psychological preferences, etc. One of the consequences of such changes is the increasing average age of the mother at the birth of her first child: this is one of the most stable fertility trends in the Russian Federation over the entire post-Soviet period,” he says.

In addition, there is greater variability in reproductive beh * avior: over the last 5-7 years, the simultaneous trends towards a decline in the births of first children and an increase in the births of the third and subsequent children have become distinctly visible. That is, the shares of those who decide to remain childless and those who choose to have large families are on the rise. And interestingly, the growth of large families occurs not in those regions where it has been a tradition (in the North Caucasus, in the republics of Siberia), but, for example, in megacities.

“The long-term success of the government fertility policy largely depends on how much government support measures will resonate with the ongoing profound changes in reproductive behavior. For example, in 2019-2020, several government measures designed to support the

births of first children and large families were launched, one after another. As a result, the births of third and subsequent children increased, although their number had already been on the rise, but the specially introduced measure failed to halt the falling birth rate of first children,” Konstantin Kazenin explained.

In his opinion, COVID-19 may become a decisive factor in determining the effectiveness of government support measures in the near future. It is unlikely that in face of general uncertainty created by the pandemic, the opportunity to receive a lump sum payment fr om the state, no matter how generous, could become a key factor for those deciding whether or not they want to become parents.

As far as more distant prospects are concerned, the ongoing social shifts in Russia will be forcing us to look for some new forms of government support in order to boost the birth rate, not to be reduced just to cash payments, the expert believes. “In those European countries wh ere, in recent decades, it was possible to avoid a dramatic drop in the birth rate, this could be achieved primarily through introducing a comprehensive system of social measures that increased the opportunities for both parents to combine parenthood with a continuing career. I think that in one or another form, the demand for such a shift in the government support system targeting the birth rate will also be on the rise in this country,” Konstantin Kazenin said by way of summing up.