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Reproductive Evolution

How birth rates are changing in post-Soviet countries


Reproductive behavior is modernizing at different rates in post-Soviet countries. Things are changing faster in Russia, Armenia, Georgia and Ukraine, where, over the last fifteen years, the average maternity age has increased and the contribution of women in their thirties to their countries’ birthrates has grown. Meanwhile, old reproductive patterns persist in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, where firstborns are usually born to parents under 30, demographers Vladimir Kozlov and Konstantin Kazenin note in a paper delivered at HSE’s XX April International Academic Conference.

Inconsistencies amidst Standardization

An increasing average maternity age and a growing contribution to birth rates from women 30 years of age and older are signs of demographic modernization. Though this process has been occurring in many regions in the world, it is heterogeneous. And the same goes for post-Soviet countries. Since the mid-2000s, some countries have seen some significant changes, while others have maintained conservative trends.

 For example, in Russia, Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia, fertility patterns have been modernizing faster.

 Azerbaijan, Central Asian countries, as well as some North Caucasian regions in Russia, on the other hand, have stopped showing a shift towards later births during this period. This can be explained by religious factors, among other factors, Vladimir Kozlov and Konstantin Kazenin believe.

Their research was based on national statistical data in post-Soviet countries (2004-2006 and 2014-2016) and the results of representative selective surveys that were conducted as part of MICS (Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys) monitoring, which was carried out by UNICEF in some of Central Asian countries during the same years.

The authors calculated the contribution of different age groups, ranging from 15-19 to 45-55, to a country’s total fertility rate (TFR)—the average number of births per one woman of fertile age.

Maternity Trends

By the mid-2010s, in Armenia, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine, the contribution of younger mothers (aged 15-19 and 20-24) to their countries’ TFR decreased considerably from that of the mid-2000s. At the same time, the TFR contribution of women of older age groups, particularly ages 30-34, grew in these countries.

Changes in percent contributions to total fertility rates
by age group
in 2014-2016 and 2004-2006
in select post-Soviet countries (in percentage points)*.

Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have demonstrated a different trend. The increase of older age groups’ ‘participation’ in their countries’ TFR was either lower than in the countries of the first group (as was the case in Kazakhstan), or did not occur at all, such as in Azerbaijan and Kyrgyzstan.

The contribution of younger women (aged 24 years and younger) to the birth rate in Kazakhstan has somewhat decreased, but this decrease was very moderate compared to Armenia, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine. In Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan, the share of women aged 15-19 in the total number of first-time births had even grown by the mid-2010s.

In general, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijan have demonstrated a much more stable birth rate model than the first group of countries: their reproductive behavior models have not changed very much.

The Power of Beliefs

The differences in fertility age trends among countries can be explained by their respective populations’ religious beliefs and related socio-cultural norms: for example, earlier births and marriages are common among Muslims, the researchers believe.

The researchers conclude:

 The data from surveys conducted in Central Asian countries confirm that there was no age-related shift in fertility rates among Islamic ethnic groups. This shift occurred only among ethnic Russian populations in Central Asia: by the mid-2010s, their peak fertility age range was 25-29. This shift did not occur among ethnic Kyrgyz women.

 When comparing the MICS results in 2006 and 2015, a similar contrast is observed between ethnic Russians and ethnic Kazakhs in Kazakhstan.

 The data on some of the Russian North Caucasian republics, collected by the authors as part of field studies in 2018, confirm their hypothesis about the impact of a population’s religious beliefs on fertility rates. While reproductive behavior has been modernizing in this region over the last three decades (people are starting families later and having fewer children, and birth rates have decreased by at least 1.5 times), this process is still rather slow, particularly in comparison to republics with smaller Muslim populations.

Dagestan and Ingushetia, unlike Russia in general, have not seen an increase in average fertility age. To the contrary, they have seen it become even lower, with younger mothers’ contribution to their regions’ birth rates slightly increasing.

But what factors hamper changes in reproductive patterns more? ‘Whether it is women’s personal religious beliefs or the sociocultural conservatism of family patterns in general, or perhaps selective migration or economic reasons (for example, unemployment among women is high)—this remains to be studied further’, conclude the authors.


* Source: data from state statistical agencies.

Authors of the study:
Vladimir Kozlov, Associate Professor at theInstitute of Demography Department of Demography
Konstantin Kazenin, Associate Professor at theInstitute of Demography Department of Demography, Director of the RANEPA Centre of Area Studies and Urbanism
Author: Olga Sobolevskaya, April 30, 2019