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The Demographic Echo of War

The Second World War ended on September 2, 1945. A new study of human losses suffered by the Soviet Union and their consequences for subsequent generations was published in Demoscope Weekly, an HSE online journal

The USSR’s casualties in WWII, including civilian deaths, are evaluated official at 26.6 million. In his article ‘On the Losses in the Great Patriotic War in Detail’, which was published in Demoscope Weekly, Nikolay Savchenko has given an analysis of the structure of these losses, and made a studyof the longlasting‘demographic echo’ of the war.

High gender disproportion

N. Savchenko found, on the basis of 1939 and 1959 censuses, that over twenty years the number of men of draftage in the USSR, born from 1889 to 1928, went down by more than 44% . In these terms, number of casualties for the USSR exceeded that of Poland, Yugoslavia, Finland, and some other countries by 3-5 times, where the decrease in the male population for the same period was from 9% to 15%.

One of the obvious demographic consequences was the huge gap between the male and female population in the USSR. The ratio of men to women born from 1889 to 1928 was distorted considerably. As Nikolay Savchenko points out, according to the 1959 census, there were 18.43 million more women than men, 641 men for every 1000 women.

The level of this disproportion can be seen after analyzing the following data arrays:

  1. The 1897 census in Russia showed there were 992 men for every 1000 women. The country never reached the same proportion in the 20th century, with all its revolutions, wars, and repressions. In 1926 there were 890 men for every 1000 women, and in 1939, 838. In 1959 the imbalance of men and women was the most marked at 641 to 1000.  20 years later in 1979, the gap had shrunk appreciably: to 784 to1000. The Russian National Census 2010 demonstrated that there were 10.8 m more women than men. The method of counting the gender proportion was different: there were 1163 women for every 1000 men (recounted according to the Soviet coefficient, it means 860 men for every 1000 women).
  2. In 1939 the difference between men and women of the age which would later become draft age, taking into account the newly acquired territories, was about 3.48 m. In 1959 it reached 18.43 m. The gap between the numbers of males and females grew up 14.95 million in 20 years.
  3. Gender disproportions in the countries of Europe in 1950s (Fig. 1) – on the basis of censuses in these countries. The least imbalance was in Hungary with 903 men for every 1000 women, and the greatest imbalance was in the USSR.

Figure 1. Shows the number of men for every 1000 women among generations born in 1889-1928 in some European countries in 1950s

Source: N. Savchenko ‘More detail on the losses in the Great Patriotic War’

Soviet Russia sufferedmost from the gender imbalance

Nikolay Savchenko emphasizes: ‘According to the 1959 census, there were 18.22 million men and 29.69 million women aged 30 to 69 in the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). The difference was 11.4 million, or 615 men for every 1000 women’.

The imbalance between men and women in Russia turned out to be even bigger than in Ukraine and Belorussia, which were ‘completely occupied during the war, while only about one fourth of the population of the RSFSR was under occupation’. The least gender disproportion was in Tajikistan: 832 men for every 1000 women (Fig. 2).

Figure 2. Shows the number of men for every 1000 women among generations born in 1889-1928 in the Soviet Republics, according to the 1959 census

Source: N. Savchenko ‘More detail on the losses in the Great Patriotic War’

77% of conscripted soldiers in Russia were from homes in the rear of the Soviet army lines, and losses among men in the USSR were the greatest in the Russian Republic. Most  Russian men who died were  from the rear regions, Nikolay Savchenko concludes.

Regional disproportions

The difference between the number of men and women born in 1889-1928 was huge in the central Russian regions. It was slightly smaller beyond the Urals and in the Volga region. And considerably less in Siberia and the Far East where some of the population moved. This applies to both voluntary and forced migration: exiles and forced resettlements.

The situation in the Russian regions which were under occupation is almost the same as in the rear. There were 545 men for every 1000 women in the Bryansk region, 557 in the Orel region, and 565 in the Kursk region; 634 men for every 1000 women in Krasnodar Krai, and 647 in the Rostov region.

In Ukraine’s Zakarpattia region, which became part of the USSR after the war, the disproportion is much less: there was almost no mobilization in the region. In the western most regions, which joined the USSR in 1939, the difference between men and women was comparatively low. For example, in Belorussia’s Grodno region there were 707 men for every 1000 women and 708 in the Brest region. The contrast is higher in Eastern Belarus: 562 men for every 1000 women (Mogilev region), and 578 men for every 1000 women in the Gomel region.

The data on Ukraine follows the same pattern. The difference between male and female population in the Western areas, which joined the Soviet Union in 1939, is much less than generally in the USSR and Ukraine. In the Lvov region, a Western region, there were 707 men for every 1000 women and in the Vinnitsa region (central Ukraine) – there were only 565 men for every 1000 women.

Difference between generations

Nikolay Savchenko compares the fates of Soviet men born from 1924 to 1930. This way it is easier to analyze the huge demographic losses. Out of this age group, the oldest went through whole war, and the youngest didn’t fight at all.

Among people born in 1930 there were 964 men for every 1000 women. This is a normal situation in peacetime.

Among people born in 1925 the ratio is totally different: 752 men for every 1000 women. For those born in 1924: 690 to 1000. And for people born in 1923 the difference is even greater: only 644 to 1000.

In 2011 there were 12.6 newborns for every 1000 people in Russia. In the pre-war period, in 1940, this figure was much higher: 20.1 newborns for every 1000 of population. In 1941 this indicator decreased to 17.53 (it was too early on for the war to effect these numbers).

In 1942 the birth rate fell down quite sharply – to 11.99 newborns in every 1000 people. And in 1943 it reached its lowest over the war period: 8.60 to 1000.

The situation radically improved only in post-war 1946, after demobilization: 17.12 newborns in every 1000 of population. ‘But because so many men died in the war, the birth rate has never reached the pre-war level’, Nikolay Savchenko emphasizes.

Savchenko mentions that in the regions at the rear of the Soviet army the dip in the birth rate was  compensatedto some extent towards the end of the war. ‘1944 and 1945 showed a small increase in the number of children’, Savchenko wrote.

General population decline

With the country’s population at 208.83 million in 1959 there were 32.86 m men of draft age, and 51.28 m female peers. There were 38.53 m children born between 1929-1938, and 7.98 elderly people born in 1889 and earlier. In 1939, with the general population at 190 m, there were 58.93 m draft age men, 62.39 m women, 44.01 m children, and 24.67 m of the elderly.

Nikolay Savchenko compares the data on population in 1939 and 1959 (with a correction for newly acquired regions), and finds  a general population decline over the 20 years: the decline includes 26.08 million men, 11.11 m women, 5.48 m children, and 16.69 m old people. A total of 59.36 m people born before 1939 passed away during the 20 years by 1959.

To evaluate this figure correctly, it helps to take into account the normal birth rate, in peacetime. This can be done by:

  1. Deducing the 1946 population from the 1941 population – it provides the general death rate for the war years.
  2. Deducing the ‘normal peacetimedeath rate’ from the general wartime rate. It gives the excessivedeath rate of the war years (Fig. 3)

Figure 3. Shows the population decline by groups during the war, million people

Source: N. Savchenko ‘More detail on the losses in the Great Patriotic War’

General excessive losses were 25.12 m people. They include 16.84 m draft age men, or 67.04%. The other one third includes women (4.36 m or 17.37% of the losses), the elderly (2.14 m or 8.53%), and children (1.77 m, or 7.05%).

In addition to the total 25.12 million losses of people born before 1939, Savchenko also believes it necessary to add about 500,000 children born between 1939 and the first half of 1941, as well as 1.3 m people born during the war years.


Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, September 02, 2013