russia us birth rate
This was not the headline that the Center for Disease Control's National Center for Health Statistics gave its recent release of provisional fertility data for 2012. However, if you compare the most recent CDC data with Rosstat data on Russian births you see that, for the first time in a very long time, in 2012 Russia's birth rate actually exceeded that of the United States. This is, to put it mildly, a significant reversal from the not too distant past when the US had a birth rate that was as much as 75% higher than Russia's. As you can see, the speed and scale of the convergence is impressive

Since 2008, the Russian birth rate has increased by about 10% while the United States has slumped by about 9%. At first glance this might sound surprising: didn't Russia's economy perform abysmally during the financial crisis? Isn't their economy going straight towards a hard landing? But it's really not much of a mystery when you really think about it: Russia, and particularly its labor market, rebounded from the financial crisis very quickly. The sorts of metrics which would be a reasonable guide to family formation and births, particularly the unemployment rate and the average real wage, are at historically good levels in Russia. Essentially, Russian wages have never been higher and unemployment has never been lower. Meanwhile, in the United States, wages are stagnant and unemployment is way above its long-term trend. This sort of economic malaise has had a predictably depressive effect on fertility.

What is not particularly relevant for the discussion are the personalities of Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin: neither deserves much credit (or blame) for their respective country's performance. Fertility is notoriously immune to state interventions, and while I'm sure someone will show up in the comments and say that Russia's strong performance is solely due to the "maternal capital" program the reality is that most of the change is due to structural demographic and economic factors that are incredibly difficult to change. So Russia's relatively good performance doesn't automatically vindicate Putin and the US poor performance doesn't "prove" that Obama is awful.


Comment: It appears that Putin has actually been a leading figure in Russia's turnaround since it was raped and looted in the 1990's.
The Unknown Putin: Documentary about the man who reverted Russia's decline


It's also worth noting that Russia's birth rate will, in the not too distant future, start to decrease as the tiny cohort born during the chaos of the 1990′s comes into prime childbearing years and replaces the relatively large cohort born during the 1980′s. It's unlikely, then, that Russia's birth rate is going to exceed that of the United States for very long: there is, at most, a 4-5 year window before structural factors take over and reduce Russia's rate while bolstering that of the United States.

But I nonetheless want to highlight the enormous change in relative performance between Russia and the United States because 1) it's something that's not well recognized and 2) strongly suggests that Russia is not some bizarre and indecipherable "dying nation" but is actually dealing with a number of demographic problems that every other advanced country is also dealing with. A lot of people pointed at Russia's naturally shrinking population and basically said "what a wretched and awful place: they can't even maintain their own numbers!" The fact that the white population is now naturally shrinking in the US should hopefully make people just a little less willing to stereotype the Russians and a little more willing to honestly discuss issues of demography by engaging with hard data.