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Russia's shrinking population mars Putin's superpower ambitions

Despite Putin's efforts, Russian men die young and women have too few babies. Here's why that matters.

This is GlobalPost's Europe editor writing. I am responding to a posting by Forbes blogger Marc Adomanis, who alleged factual inaccuracies in a recent article by Fred Weir, titled Russia's shrinking population mars Putin's superpower ambitions. Neither Adomanis nor Forbes ever contacted us, and their blog was posted on Reddit prior to us learning of these allegations.

We looked into every detail, and found the allegations to be without merit. We stand by Fred Weir's story. Here are the details of GlobalPost's investigation:

- Adomanis takes issue with Weir's statement that "Russian death rates have stabilized in recent years." Here, Adomanis illustrates his point with a chart that appears to show a decline in the death rate. But that's only because Adomanis starts at 2003, the year that Russia posted its worst death rate since 1950, at 16.4 per 1,000. (This is like posting a chart that begins in the depths of the mortgage meltdown to show what a great investment the S&P 500 is.)

Prior to the fall of the Soviet Union, the death rate never exceeded 11.6, and it averaged 9.3. The average since 1991 has been 14.7, according to the Rostat data that Adomanis uses. Since 2004, the death rate has been 16 per 1,000, 16.1, 15.2, 14.6 and 14.7, according to Rostat.

Weir is right and Adomanis is wrong — the current death rate has dropped to the post-Soviet average — in other words, it has stabilized.

Here's a link to the Rostat death rate data:

And here's a chart that shows Russia's death rate since 1950. The blue line is the post-Soviet average. The dashed vertical line is where Adomanis' chart begins. 

- Adomanis says Weir is wrong in stating that “Russian fertility rates have been falling for decades.” Oddly, to "prove" his point, Adomanis links to a chart that ... illustrates clearly that he (Adominis) is wrong. Adomanis' chart shows a fertility rate of 2.52 in 1960, 1.99 in 1970, 1.89 in 1980, 1.89 in 1990, 1.21 in 2000 and 1.54 in 2009. The 2009 number is up from 1.3 in 2006. Still, this is clearly a downward trend, even if there are occasional upticks, including one in the last few years and another in the 1980s. More importanly, Russian fertility has remained well below the 2.1 rate required for replacement.

The fertility drop is even more pronounced if you look at previous decades — down from nearly 7 in 1925 and about 3 in 1950; see page 26 of the UN report linked above for a chart).

So Weir is correct: Russia's fertility has been declining for decades.

For the record, here's the chart Adomanis uses:

- Adomanis says that Weir's population figure for Russia is wrong. The difference: Adomanis used the Russian government's numbers, while Weir used the US government's. It matters little whether Russia's population is 142 million (per Rostat) or 139 million (per the US government), a difference of about 2 percent. What matters is that Russia's population has shrunk, it is shrinking, and is expected to continue doing so. It's currently **shrinking** at a rate of 0.47 percent per year. That makes it 222nd in the world in terms of population growth.

In suggesting that GlobalPost got its facts wrong, Adomanis is at odds with Foreign Affairs magazine ("Russia's Demographic Disaster") as well as the United Nations, which in 2008 dedicated a report to the matter, titled "Russia Facing Demographic Challenges," which can be found here:

If you're interested in checking Weir's numbers, the demographic projections are on page 25.

- Adomanis doubts that 600,000 people die in Russia from alcohol deaths, as Weir claims. Weir's figure was used in two 2009 articles published in the prestigious journal, The Lancet. Here are links to the articles:, Adomanis bases his assertion not on actual alcohol mortality data, but on a speculative extrapolation from Rostat data. We will use Lancet's numbers.

We stand by all of the facts — as well as the larger themes — in Fred Weir's article