Birthrate falls with the economy


By Irina Glushchenko

MOSCOW — Repeatedly in the past few months, the Russian media have carried reports detailing the sombre news: women in this country are no longer willing to bear children.

The reports have noted social causes — uncertainty about the future, women's fear of being sacked from their jobs, the crisis in the child-care and health care systems, the commercialisation of services that previously were free or heavily subsidised — and also economic ones, including steep rises in the prices of children's goods. For example, the price of a baby's nappy has risen by 100 times.

According to figures published at the end of January, Moscow with its population of 9 million now has barely 80,000 pregnant women.

"The need to purchase basic items for the newborn child is having an irremediable effect on the nutrition of pregnant women and nursing mothers", Irina Ivashenko wrote in a recent issue of the trade union journal Solidarnost. "This is leading to a rise in the mortality rate for both mothers and infants, as well as to an increased incidence of congenital diseases and other pathological changes."

Ivashenko urged the Moscow city government to set aside money in its budget to provide every mother of a newborn child with a set of indispensable items. Although Ivashenko suggested specific cost-saving measures that would make this money available, it is difficult to believe that the mayor's office will heed her advice.

If women now prefer not to bear children, what is to be done for the children who have already been born? In January, at a time when the average monthly wage in Moscow was a little over 1200 roubles, parents were already having to pay 1000 roubles a month for creches and kindergartens. The prices of infants' food, furniture and toys had all soared.

Liberal propagandists in Russia delightedly quote figures for the number of victims of the Stalin regime, including in their calculations not only the real people who actually died, but also the "demographic losses" — that is, the people who, in the view of the experts, missed out on being born as a result of the repressions.

The catch is that the population losses resulting from the sharp fall in life expectancy and the drop in the birthrate under Gorbachev and Yeltsin are fully comparable with the indirect losses resulting from Stalin's repressions and the second world war. Fortunately, we have yet to see another world war or further massive repressions. One hopes we will continue to get away with "indirect" losses.

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