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Maternal Capital Leads to Births of 'Postponed' Babies

Federal and regional maternity benefits such as 'maternal capital', larger child allowances, and other measures introduced since 2007 to improve the country's demography have led to more births, but have not yet contributed to effective fertility rates in Russia. A paper by Sergey Zakharov and Thomas Freyka in the HSE's new Demographic Review journal examines Russia's reproductive trends over the past half-century in an attempt to make projections concerning the future effects of the country's demographic policies

Measures introduced in 2007 to support families with children have affected nearly all women of childbearing age, except for the youngest and those without children. In contrast, young women who have already had children were more likely to decide to have another baby. Women aged 26 and older showed the highest birth rates, with the total fertility rate increasing from 0.64 births per woman in 2006 to almost one birth per woman in 2012 for this age group. However, rather than increased fertility, these numbers may mean that women had given birth to their 'delayed' planned babies.

Consistent with the key reproductive trends in recent years, these new births appear to be preplanned but occurring a little earlier than would have occurred in the absence of incentives. However, these generations' estimated total fertility – which can be accurately measured only after the end of each generation's reproductive years – has not changed much. In terms of the number of children they want to have, Russians follow their own plans, and the government may only be able to facilitate the implementation of preexisting plans rather than convince people to have more children, according to Sergey Zakharov, Deputy Director of the HSE's Institute of Demography, and Tomas Freyka, an independent U.S. consultant and demographer.

In their paper entitled 'Fertility Trends in Russia During the Past Half Century: Period and Cohort Perspectives' published in Demographic Review, Issue 1, 2014, the authors review some of the early outcomes of Russia's pro-fertility policies, based on Rosstat’s published and unpublished data and the Human Fertility Database, maintained by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Germany.

Child Friendly Environment Needed for a New Baby Boom

Fertility depends on multiple factors, including social, economic, political, psychological, as well as many others; it is also influenced by one's chosen lifestyle, the number of children in the family, and the age of marriage and the birth of the first child. In his article 'Humanity Choses Low Fertility', Anatoly Vishnevsky, Director of the HSE Institute of Demography, examines the global reproductive trends in terms of the demographic transition from higher to lower birth rates and notes that a decline in fertility is a natural demographic process reflecting a change in people's reproductive strategies associated with lower infant mortality. At least in theory, low birth rates are good for women, leaving them more time for other types of self-expression.

These universal reproductive trends are virtually irreversible. In addition, family reproductive patterns, such as the number of siblings in one's family of origin, also play a role in one’s reproductive choices.

Zakharov and Freyka conclude that much greater efforts are needed to encourage families to have more children than they had planned. The state should create a friendly environment for parenting, not limited to financial incentives such as maternity and child allowances and other benefits, but also including a range of other measures, from addressing families' housing needs to promoting gender equality at home and at work.

The researchers argue that from this perspective, Russia fails to take full advantage of the global lessons learned, and thus they express very limited optimism concerning Russia's pro-fertility policies, while admitting that it may be too early yet for final conclusions.

Monetary Incentives Are Short-lived

It has been shown worldwide that fertility responds to financial incentives only in the short term, and a temporary increase in birth rates is usually followed by a decline of a certain depth and duration. Just as in the rest of the world, Russia has faced this situation before – most recently, in the 1980s and 1990s.

The 2006-2013 statistics may give rise to optimism, but also lead one to start thinking about the fluctuations of fertility indicators. The government's pro-natalist measures have increased the total fertility rate (TFR) from 1.3 births per woman in 2006 to 1.69 births per woman in 2012, and Rosstat's tentative 2013 statistic stands at 1.7 births per woman. In 2007, the annual TFR growth reached almost 9%, but then declined from year to year and dropped to about 1% by 2011; there was a still unexplained 7% TFR increase in 2012 and hardly any change in 2013.

However, these numbers say little about the final fertility rates – i.e. the effective birth rates – of the current generations. The authors' estimates indicate that the cohort of women born in the second half of the 1980s will end up with a TFR of 1.8 at best, and those born in the 1970s will have an even lower TFR of 1.6, which is far below the replacement fertility rate of more than two. Zakharov and Freyka note that without immigration, Russia can expect a population decline for decades to come.

Thus, the expected fertility rates, while fairly positive, are not optimal – even though these are preliminary estimates. But one thing is certain: the timing of births has changed; younger women below 25 are postponing childbirth until later in life.

Today's Women Become Moms Later in Life

Early marriages, which used to be common in Russia, are becoming a thing of the past. According to Zakharov and Freyka's paper, starting a family too early «contradicts modern society's values such as a good education, professional skills, and high living standards.» As a result, people postpone getting married to a more mature age.

In addition, the availability of contraceptives means that people no longer have to rely on abortion as the only family planning method, and women have more control of their lives and their time, and can pursue self-fulfillment in various spheres.

The fact that women are increasingly better educated and more empowered cannot but affect fertility by increasing the age at which a woman gives birth, a phenomenon observed in Russia since the generation of the mid-1960s whose entry into adulthood coincided with perestroika and subsequent socioeconomic reforms (the same is true for those born in the 1970s).

Since the sixties' generation, birth rates in younger age groups have consistently declined from a TFR of 1.17 for women under 25 born in the 60s to the TFR of 0.7 for those born in the first half of the 80s, reducing the proportion of younger mothers in the TFR.

Having just one child was an important factor in the decline of birth rates in the 1960s and 1970s cohorts, while the proportion of first births increased from 52% to 58% of the TFR at age 40 (at the end of the woman's reproductive years).

Catching Up Not So Easy

The biggest issues with postponed births are whether they eventually occur, and if so, how many of them. The proportion of women who finally gave birth after postponing it has increased from less than 10% for those born in early 1960s to 25-30% for those born at the turn of 1960s and 1970s, but less so with first births: more women postponing their first child remain childless.

According to Zakharov and Freyka, compensation for delayed births in generations completing their reproductive years is still low and is unlikely to exceed 50-55% of all births for the generation born in 1975 in Russia. It is too early to make conclusions regarding younger women still at the peak of their reproductive years.

The pro-natalist measures launched in 2007 may have an effect on the timing of births, but not on the number of births per woman over her lifetime, Zakharov and Freyka conclude. "In other words, the incentives have prompted Russians to have children earlier and at shorter intervals than they would otherwise."

The findings from the three waves (2004, 2007, and 2011) of the 'Parents and Children, Men and Women in Family and Society' survey support the assumption that Russia's demographic policy has had an effect on the timing of births only. The survey reveals that although financial aid to families with children has increased substantially, people's reproductive intentions have not changed much—the three survey waves found virtually the same attitudes concerning the desired number of children in the family.

Stronger Pro-natalist Policies Needed

Table 1 shows the authors' projections of total fertility rates. The most realistic estimated TFR for those born in the second half of the 1980s stands at 1.69 births per woman; it is lower at 1.67 for women born in the early 1980s and even lower at 1.62 for those born in the late 1970s and approaching the end of their reproductive years. All figures are comparable and do not offer any hope for a significant increase in fertility to support a sustainable demographic trend in Russia.

Table 1. Actual and expected total fertility in the generations of Russian women born between 1955 and 1989

Generations of womenNumber of children per woman 
born as of 2013final: actual or expected 
expected in addition if age-specific fertility rates are maintained at the 2012 level in the coming yearsif age-specific fertility rates are maintained at the 2012 level in the coming yearsif age-specific fertility rates increase by 10% in the coming yearsif age-specific fertility rates decrease by 10% in the coming years

Source: the authors' estimates based on data from the Human Fertility Database, supplemented by Rosstat's unpublished data.

Perhaps young adults born in the 1990s who are just starting families today will be able to reverse the historic trend? Alas, there is no reason to expect it yet, according to Zakharov and Freyka. Rosstat's sample survey of Russians' reproductive plans conducted in 2012 does not seem to suggest that Russians under 25 want or expect to have more children – in fact, those aged 20 want fewer children, on average, than previous generations, raising the big question of whether they can at least match their parents' fertility rates.

The authors conclude that it will only be possible to assess the results of the current demographic policies in the early 2020s – but in any event, measures to encourage fertility should continue, while existing stereotypes concerning the policy goals, objectives, and tools need to be revised.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, September 25, 2014