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Experts say baby boom vital to fight Russia’s demographic decline, not migrant influx

A demographic expert cautioned against the principle of helping only poor, disadvantaged families

MOSCOW, November 11. /TASS/. The dilemma of Russia’s shrinking population cannot be solved through migrant influxes. The state must change its demographic policy, encouraging families to have a third child, suggest experts interviewed by TASS.

Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova warned that Russia’s population was declining dramatically. According to the Russian Federal Service for State Statistics, the natural population drop in Russia was over 209,000 people in January-July 2019.

Migration not an answer

Population growth in any country can be ensured by either a natural increase (the difference between the number of births and deaths), or migration. That said, migration can become a demographic resource, but for this, Russia’s migration policy needs to be changed, Director of the Higher School of Economics’ Institute of Demography, Anatoly Vishnevsky, believes.

The country must have "special programs focused on receiving migrants, and furnishing mechanisms for them to adapt and integrate, but Russia doesn’t have them," the demographic specialist stressed. On the contrary, Russia has let the pace of migration slip through its fingers over the past decade. "Moreover, anti-migrant sentiment is beginning to rear its head. If we had a sound migration policy, then we could be considering migration from other countries," he stressed.

The flow of migrants used to compensate for the population decline in Russia previously, but now the country cannot count on this resource, Vishnevsky added.

Vice-Rector of the Academy of Labor and Social Relations Alexander Safonov echoes this view. Migration ‘reserves’ from the former Soviet republics are running out, and they themselves are facing problems of a shrinking population, too.

"Five to seven was the average amount of children families from Central Asian republics had during Soviet times, versus two to three children nowadays. Therefore, over the next ten years they will come up against the same problems that we are facing. This means that viewing these countries as a resource for Russia is a flawed policy," he stressed.

Besides, migration from countries other than the former Soviet republics would worsen the situation. "The cultural composition and the national component of the country would change, and very rapidly for that matter. We would face the same problems that Europe faces, only they would be worse, since they have a lot of means for social mobility and many of these countries are well-off, whereas we would become a breeding ground for more poverty," Safonov said.

Struggling for natural population growth

With this in view, population growth can be achieved only through a nationwide baby boom, experts stressed. "In order to experience an increase in the population, there must be about 2.15 children per woman, Vishnevsky pointed out. However, Russia hasn’t seen this birthrate for 100 years already. Government targets in Russia have been to have 1.7 children per woman by 2014, which is not enough to see natural growth in the population. "We have to put the main thrust, the main emphasis on families with multiple kids, at least three children," he added.

Long-term government support vital

The negative trend can be reversed only through long-term state support for families having children. "Planning a child is a strategy that looks forward towards the next 18 years. That is why, if the population sees a threat to its economic wellbeing, they give up on having two or three children," Safonov noted.

According to the demographic expert, a family must get financial support over the entire time a mother is caring for her child. If it is three years, then a mother must be properly compensated for her costs and lack of income throughout those three years. A family must have an additional one million rubles to manage through these three years. After that, social services must step in and proceed with Soviet style assistance for the family — a full package of free-of-charge social services, specifically education, the expert believes.

He also cautioned against the principle of helping only poor, disadvantaged families. "Otherwise a paradox emerges: give birth to more children, get poor and we will come to the rescue. But nobody wants to be poor," he pointed out. So focusing on one child is a way to avoid poverty. Moreover, targeted social aid will not only not serve as any encouragement for a second or third child, but will be a direct path to future problems for the state, if it is considered as the main instrument in the demographic policy, the expert stressed.

"Without solving the task of increasing the birthrate, this policy will generate a future demographic structure with a lot of elderly people," Safonov cautioned. This will increase poverty and future government expenses on pensions, he added. So, by targeting only poor families for the time being and thus saving funds, the state only makes things worse.

"Demographics is costly, but we have an opportunity today. Human capital is the future of the country. Human capital involves the development of healthcare, education, culture and sports. That is why, we must invest in these sectors, making them maximally affordable and free-of-charge, especially for families having more than three children for the period when they are bringing up a child," Safonov concluded.