The wording of the draft law changed because the demographic situation is serious and affects the volume of the mobilisation resource.
This rather enigmatic quote reported in The Guardian
on 26 July was from Andrei Kartapolov, head of Duma's defence affairs committee, when talking to the Interfax news agency. It caught my eye as I have long been intrigued by the generally unacknowledged effects of demographics on politics and world events.
So what exactly is Kartapolov saying? The Duma is a legislative branch of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Parliament and the law they are charged with amending is that of the draft or conscription regulations, seeking to extend the upper age limit for male conscription from 27 to 30 years old.
The demographic situation which is 'serious' is the fall in the number of men in the population under 27 years old. The 'volume of the mobilisation resource' is the number of men they can manage to recruit into the army. During the First and Second World Wars, for Russia, one of the cheapest and most expendable resources was the large volume of fighting men which could be thrown onto the front line.
That was then. No longer. Quite simply, Russia is running out of men.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the average number of children borne by a Russian woman was nine, of which five could be expected to survive. The revolutionary government, immediately post 1916, allowed women access to contraception (such as it was) and at the same time, Soviet Russia became the first nation to decriminalise abortions. This, along with the increasing access of women to education and work outside the home, resulted in a significant drop in the size of families. This drop was exacerbated by the absence and later the slaughter of enlisted men and civilians in the First and Second World Wars, and by famines and death in exile due to government policies. More recently, as conscripts began to be sent to Ukraine, tens of thousands of young men are estimated to have fled Russia.
The birth rate in Russia is now only 1.5, well below the 2.1 level required for maintaining a steady population, which means its population level in this century is still steadily dropping. Only now the birth rate is declining due to the same factors implicated in the reduced birth rates in many other developed countries.
In the UK, the fertility rate is 1.8 births per woman, also below the 2.1 replacement rate. Concern with the degree to which our population is ageing does not appear to have impinged much on successive UK governments and their social policies. I feel the commitment of the Scottish Labour Party given this week to support the abolition of the 'Rape Clause', cutting out the benefit for a third child unless the conception came about through rape, has less to do with concern for the welfare of mothers and babies, or the parlous state of our demographics, and more to do with soliciting popular votes.
Nevertheless, despite the generally hostile nature of our social systems of housing, welfare support and workplace conditions facing those producing babies, unlike many European countries, the population of the UK is very slightly increasing, at 0.6% per year. However, according to statistics in the World Population Review
, for the fifth year in a row net migration was a larger contributor to the population maintenance than were births and deaths.
While the overall world population is growing daily, the rate at which it is growing is slowing, with a significant steepening of the dip from 2000, when the growth rate fell below 1% for the first time. If current trends continue, the growth rate will continue to decrease until around 2100 when it will dip into negative population growth.
According to the World Population Review
, Japan and South Korea have joined Russia as developed nations which will see their populations decline significantly even by 2050. The birth rate in South Korea, for example, is described as 'alarming' at 0.78, a rate projected to halve the population and vastly increase the proportion of the elderly by the end of the century. Recently, in an interesting exercise on the radio programme More or Less
, illustrating the effect of a low birth rate, they showed how 100 Koreans today would reduce within three generations to only six great grandchildren.
In many European countries there are similar trends to that in the UK. In Spain (1.19) and Italy (1.25), both with a large proportion of Catholic families, and despite the Papal encyclical of 1968 forbidding contraceptives, the birth rate has significantly fallen over the past few decades. On average, the European rate is 1.5, with the highest European rate of France at 1.84 still not reaching the replacement rate of 2.1.
The deterrents to procreation most often cited are: housing prices; long or inflexible working hours which particularly disadvantage women; enormous cost of child rearing, including child care and education; difficulties raising children in the hot house pressure of the current economic circumstances of female work and family income; and domestic relationships within which women are expected to carry responsibility of almost all domestic and caring duties within multi-generational families. The more there is readily available contraception to allow women at all educational levels to postpone or avoid pregnancies altogether, the fewer who opt for traditional motherhood patterns.
Since all varieties of economic systems require a significant input of productive young people to balance the demands of supporting the elderly, many Western countries have put in place state policies to try to encourage women to become mothers. Cash gifts, free or heavily subsidised child care, generous parental leave, tax rebates for each additional child – even bonuses for grandparents who look after grandchildren – have all been tried by different nations. However, the downward trend in Europe seems unstoppable, as clearly the factors making couples limit the number of their offspring appear to be stronger than any pro-procreation government policies.
The statistics of Europe are in some contrast to those in most African countries and in India and Pakistan. Medical advances reducing infant deaths and extending life spans at the other end are the major contributors to the rapid escalation of population numbers in many African and Asian countries. Social and religious norms frequently prevent other forces, such as female control of contraception and access to education, from putting a brake on the increases. By 2050, according to one statistic, Nigeria will be the third most populous country in the world, and by 2100 on present trends, will have a population greater than all of Europe or North America.
When the NHS celebrated its 75th birthday, The Times
interviewed the woman believed to be the first baby born in the new organisation, at one minute past midnight on 5 July 1948. She was called Aneira after Aneurin Bevan. She told how her paternal grandmother died aged 34, having mourned the death of four babies and left six living. Her maternal grandmother died aged 40 leaving seven young children. Her mother believed the NHS had allowed her to live to 96, seeing seven children, 21 grandchildren and 65 great grandchildren. It was figures like these which led us to believe that in Britain there would soon be 'standing room only', and embedded the belief that immigration was a serious problem, especially as young immigrants tend to have larger families than our settled population.
Another woman born on that same NHS birthday hoped there would be 'lots' of her grandchildren and great grandchildren celebrating the 150th anniversary of the NHS. But judging by the statistics, borne out by the situation within my own family and a few others I know, it needs no More or Less
mathematical guru to predict that the young who will be needed to look after our ageing population and produce much needed economic growth are getting fewer and fewer.
But one politician has indeed anticipated this future problem. Jacob Rees-Mogg on his GB News radio programme recently enjoined his listeners: 'I've done my bit by having six children, so now you do yours'.
Perhaps it would be better to hope that one of Rishi's five policy ambitions gets abandoned... Don't stop the boats.
Mary Simpson is Professor Emeritus of Classroom Learning at Edinburgh University