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The baby decision amid turmoil: understanding the fertility decline in Russia of the 1990s


Brainerd, Elizabeth (2007). The baby decision amid turmoil: understanding the fertility decline in Russia of the 1990s. Seattle, WA: National Council for Eurasian and East European Research.


1989 and 1999 the total fertility rate in Russia declined from 2.01 to 1.16, one of the lowest fertility rates in the world and substantially below the level of population replacement of 2.1 children per woman. Was this decline in fertility caused by the economic collapse that accompanied Russia’s transition from communism in this period? Is the decline only temporary, with women simply delaying births, or does it re present a shift to a permanently lower level of fertility? This paper explores these and related questions using data across Russia’s regions for this period and using individual-level data that record births and abortions. The results indicate that the fertility decline in Russia is related to the large decrease in income experienced by much of the population in this period, as well as to declining marriage rates and (in some specifications) rising unemployment. Measures of macroeconomic instability and uncertainty about the future show surprisingly little correl ation with fertility rates and the probability of having a birth, but women with positive expectations about the future were much less likely to have an abortion than were women with negative expectations about the future.
This paper analyzes the causes of this fertility decline, focusing on the role of the income declines and economic uncertainty caused by the economic collapse that accompanied the transition to a market economy. It also investigates whether the fertility decline is temporary (couples delaying births) or represents a permanent d ecline in fertility rates, and the role (if any) played by the upsurge in male mortality rates in Russia in the 1990s. Two data sources are used: cross-regional data, which enable one to test the correlation between age-specific birth rates and macroeconomic variables across regions and over time; and individual-level data from the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey, which allow one to identify whether individual behaviors and expectations are correlated with the decision to have a child (or an abortion). The two approaches give consistent results in some respects, with both data sets indicating that the decline in income played an important role in changing fertility over the period. Surprisingly, most measures of economic uncertainty, either at the macroeconomic level or the individual level, show little or no relationship with having a child. The high death rates of middle-aged men in this period also appear to have had little impact on women’s decisions to have a child.


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Brainerd, Elizabeth