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Home » Asya Pereltsvaig, Guest Posts, Population Geography, Russia, Ukraine, and Caucasus

Mapping Russia’s Demographic Problems

Submitted by on January 18, 2016 – 4:12 pm 12 Comments |  
[Note to readers: customizable maps of Russia are now available in Russian here.]

Much has been written about Russia’s demographic problems, particularly in the 1990s and 2000s. The country as a whole is characterized by low birth rates and high abortion rates; high death rates, especially from non-natural causes; rather low life expectancy, especially for men; and skewed sex ratios. This post examines some of these issues, focusing on regional differences across Russia. The GeoCurrents maps presented below are based primarily on data from the Federal State Statistics Service; some of the indicators, such as the percentage of working age adults and of pensioners as well as sex ratios, have been calculated directly from the FSSS data. Additional data comes from the “Children in Russia” publication by the FSSS, available (in Russian) here.



As maps of Russia’s birth rates, death rates, TFR, and natural population growth by federal subject can be found in Wikipedia, we begin by mapping life expectancy (at birth). According to data from the World Bank, the life expectancy of an average Russian male is a whopping 10 years shorter than that of an average Russian female: the figure for men is 66 years (the same as in Kazakhstan, Iraq, and North Korea), while that for women is 76 years (the same as in Iran, Honduras, and Tonga). But as the FSSS data mapped on the left reveals, there are significant differences in life expectancy among Russia’s federal subjects. For example, life expectancy for an average Ingush woman is almost 15 years longer than that of her Chukotkan counterpart (81.32 years vs. 66.42 years). The contrast is even more striking with respect to men: life expectancy for an average Ingush male it is almost 20 years longer than for his Tuvan counterpart (75.97 years and 56.37 years, respectively). Overall, the highest life expectancy, for both genders, is found in the two federal cities (Moscow and Saint Petersburg) and in the northeastern and north-central Caucasus. For both genders, Ingushetia has the highest life expectancy figures, while Dagestan is in the top four (72.31 years for men, 78.82 years for women). North Ossetia ranks 3rd in life expectancy for women (79.06 years), with above-average life expectancy for men (68.46 years). Curiously, Chechnya ranks 4th in male life expectancy (70.23), the ongoing insurgency notwithstanding, while life expectancy for Chechen women is close to average. Neighboring regions of southern Russia also post fairly high life expectancy figures. Moscow City ranks 2nd and Saint Petersburg 5th in life expectancy, for both men and women. As with many other standard-of-living indicators, some of which are discussed in the previous post, the oblasts surrounding the two federal cities present a sharp contrast to the cities themselves: both Moscow and Leningrad oblast post average figures for female life expectancy and below-average figures for male life expectancy.

Outside the Caucasus and the federal cities, life expectancy is shorter, with most regions in Siberia posting lower figures than those of European Russia. There are a few exceptions, however, including higher-than-average figures for both genders in Belgorod oblast in south-central Russia, Tatarstan in the Middle-Volga region, and Khanty-Mansiysk, and higher-than-average figure for men in Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. For women, life expectancy is higher than average in a number of regions in south-central Russia (Belgorod, Voronezh, and Tambov oblasts) and Middle-Volga region (Chuvashia and Penza oblast). At the bottom of the ranking, one finds Tuva and Chukotka (and for men, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast): life expectancy in these regions is almost a decade shorter than the country’s average.


A large gap in life expectancy for men and women helps explain the skewed sex ratios. As can be seen from the map of the 2013 FSSS data, most Russian regions have more women than men, with many regions having fewer than 85 males per 100 females (shown in the two darkest shades of red). There are only three regions where there are more men than women (shown in blue): Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Chukotka, and Kamchatka.

Map of Russia Sex Ratio

The map above can be instructively compared with an earlier map, based on the 2002 census data. The two maps are constructed so that the data is binned in the same way, although the lowest (most female-dominated) category of the older map has been broken down into two categories in the newer map. A comparison of the two maps reveals that the situation did not improve in the decade or so separating the two maps; on the contrary, many regions became even more skewed in the female direction in this period. A good example comes from what is today Krasnoyarsk Krai. In 2002, Krasnoyarsk region consisted of three administrative units: Evenk autonomous district with a ratio of 1.007 (i.e. more men than women), Taimyr (Dolgano-Nenets) autonomous district with a ratio of 0.948, and Krasnoyarsk territory with a ratio of 0.889. In 2013, the entire Krasnoyarsk Krai, amalgamated from these three regions, had a ratio of 0.875, which was more female-biased than the ratio in any of its constituent parts in 2002. Similarly, in most regions in Siberia and the Urals (i.e. Zabaikalsky, Primorsky, Khabarovsk, and Altai Krais; Amur, Irkutsk, Kemerovo, Tyumen, Sverdlovsk, Kurgan, and Chelyabinsk oblasts, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Khakassia and Sakhalin), sex ratios also became more skewed towards women. The sex ratio of Murmansk oblast followed the Siberian trend in becoming more skewed towards women. Movement towards a more balanced ratio have been registered only in a small number of regions: Novosibirsk (from 0.866 to 0.872), Ulyanovsk (from 0.856 to 0.878), Belgorod (from 0.848 to 0.854), Tambov (from 0.844 to 0.859), Kaluga (from 0.841 to 0.859), and Moscow oblasts (from 0.850 to 0.858), Chuvashia (from 0.863 to 0.872), and Mari El (from 0.869 to 0.872). In the north Caucasus and southern Russia, the overall tendency has also been towards more skewed sex ratios, the most striking case being that of Ingushetia, where the sex ratio dropped from 0.876 to 0.819, the fourth lowest in Russia. The lowest sex ratio is found in Yaroslavl oblast, whereas Ivanovo oblast—whose capital has been known unofficially as “the city of brides”—ranks second from the bottom.



Regional differences in the age structure of the population are also significant—and help explain the demographic and economic situations in the various regions. Let’s begin by examining the youngest segment of the population, children under age 17 (the data comes from the “Children in Russia” publication by the FSSS). Clear geographical patterns can be seen on the map on the left: children constitute a larger proportion of the population (25% or more) in eastern and southern Siberia (but generally not the Russian Far East), northeastern Caucasus, and Nenets Autonomous Okrug. A comparison with the second map posted on the left shows that areas with a higher proportion of children are generally those also with a higher proportion of indigenous peoples (i.e. a lower proportion of ethnic Russians). This correlation is confirmed by the figures listed in the Wikipedia article on the demographics of Russia: ethnic Russians have the country’s second-lowest fertility rate. (Russia’s Jews have the lowest fertility figure of all ethnic groups.) As can be expected from the high birth rates in these three regions, Chechnya, Ingushetia, and Tuva rank at the top in the percentage of children, with about a third or more of their populations under the age of 17. In contrast, in most of European Russia (and a few regions in Siberia) children constitute less than 20% of the population, and in most oblasts in central Russia the figure is below 17%. Unsurprisingly, the lowest percentage of children is found in the two federal cities: 14.3% in Moscow and 14.4% in Saint Petersburg.


At the other end of the age spectrum are the pensioners, a group that is now raising a lot of concerns. Despite Russia’s relatively low life expectancy (especially for men, as discussed above), the percentage of pensioners has been growing for some time. According to a paper by Julie DaVanzo and David Adamson “Russia’s Demographic “Crisis”: How Real Is It?” (published in 1997), “between 1959 and 1990, the number of persons aged 60 and over doubled… [by] the beginning of the 1990s, reach[ing] 16 percent”. Since then, the trend has continued, as noted by the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection. Russia currently has one of the lowest retirement age thresholds: according to the Pension Fund website, “men older than 60 and women older than 55 qualify for [the old age] pension” (people living in the Far North and other harsh regions have an even lower retirement age threshold). However, recently there has been much discussion about the possibility of raising the retirement age to 65, possibly as early as in 2016. One of the main aims of this proposal is to alleviate the shortages of pension funds that resulted from Russia’s current economic woes. These problems may also lead to a potential decrease in pensions paid to current retirees, as reported by

As with other demographic indicators, the percentage of pensioners differs widely from region to region. Only three regions—all of them in the north Caucasus—had fewer than 22% retirees in 2013, and half a dozen others (including Moscow City, the two autonomous okrugs in Western Siberia and three additional regions in the north Caucasus) posted figures below 25%. Conversely, the highest percentages of pensioners are found in northern European Russia (Republic of Karelia, Arkhangelsk oblast, and Komi Republic), four oblasts south of Moscow (Bryansk, Oryol, Tula, and Ryazan), as well as in Kurgan oblast and on Sakhalin. (Curiously, a lower percentage of pensioners does not correlate closely with high GDP: for example, Yamalo-Nenets and Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrugs have relatively few pensioners, whereas Sakhalin ranks 7th highest in the percentage of pensioners.) The two federal cities, especially Moscow, have low percentages of pensioners.


To conclude our discussion of the age structure, let’s consider the map of the percentage of working age adults. As with the other indicators, regional differences are quite pronounced and are due to different factors. For example, Kurgan oblast has the lowest percentage of working age adults (55.3%), and Chechnya ranks 3rd lowest (with 56.3%), but the population structures in those two regions are quite different: Kurgan oblast has a high percentage of pensioners, whereas Chechnya ranks highest in the percentage of children. At the other end of the spectrum, one finds such regions of high GDP as the Yamalo-Nenets and Khanty-Mansiysk Autonomous Okrugs and Chukotka, as well as adjacent Kamchatka and Magadan oblast. However, despite similar percentages of working age adults, the overall population structure of these regions is distinctive: Chukotka, for instance has substantially more children and fewer pensioners than Magadan oblast. The latter region has experienced a significant depopulation trend, which affects the younger adult population more than the older people, resulting in a disproportionately aging population. Moreover, this trend feeds itself: even without taking into account the out-migration, an aging population results over time in lower birth rates.


The shortages of working age adults in regions such as Chechnya and Tuva are further exacerbated by high levels of unemployment, as can be seen from the map on the left: 26.9% and 19.3%, respectively. The highest unemployment figure, 43.7%, comes from Ingushetia. Elevated unemployment rates (over 10%) are found also in several other regions in the North Caucasus (Dagestan, Kalmykia, Karachay-Cherkessia) and southern Siberia (Altai Republic, Zabaikalsk Krai). Unsurprisingly, these regions also have the country’s lowest GDP figures. In the following (and last) post on the regional differences across Russia, we will examine unemployment patterns in the context of substance abuse and crime rates.





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Commenting Guidelines: GeoCurrents is a forum for the respectful exchange of ideas, and loaded political commentary can detract from that. We ask that you as a reader keep this in mind when sharing your thoughts in the comments below.

  • Mike

    Population is rising, more people migrate to the country than leave. Trends all positive. Issue is that constant economic attacks on Russia leaves less incentive to grow families, or build industry and thriving employment.
    Note though, Russia’s positive migration is from those surrounding countries who are doing poor. Ukraine was Russia’s main source of migrants, but now its even bigger due to their own increased attacks.
    Russia will stay as Russia is unless economic attacks stop, or new opportunities arise that make up for those attacks. Don’t get your hopes up.

    • Regarding population changes, this post focuses on processes
      involved in natural change (not migration). I didn’t map natural population growth by region because a map like that is already available:

      As regards migration, there are differences among regions, with some regions (e.g. Moscow) exhibiting positive net migration and others (e.g. Magadan) negative net migration, and it would be interesting to look into; maybe later I’ll make a map of the Rosstat data on the issue.

      As regards Ukraine, your sentence is unclear as to who you claim attacks whom. It is notable, however, that people in Eastern Ukraine (and the Donbass region specifically) strongly support (75%) Ukrainian unity, according to the latest polling data (p. 22):

      As regards overall migration to/from Russia, you’re right that immigrants come mostly from the poorer FSU countries — what does that tell you? As for emigration figures, I’d like to see the figures for 2015, but we’d have to wait for those, since the year has just ended. My personal impression based on the situation here in the Bay Area is that of massively increased immigration from Russia: more people have come in the last 6 months, it seems, than in the 6 or even 10 years prior. Again, that’s not official stats, but I’d love to see my impression confirmed (or not). The stats that I saw recently (but unfortunately can’t locate now) is that over a quarter million Russian citizens applied for a green card in 2015, although annual quota for the country is only 4,000. Many people come on work visas, student visas, fiancee visas etc., which is not always counted under migration rates. It is important to keep in mind that immigration from Russia depends not only on “supply” (people who want to emigrate), but also on “demand” (whether host countries allow them to come legally).

      As for your last comment, “Don’t get your hopes up.”, it seems that you have an ideological agenda here and ascribe one to me, but you’re wrong in doing so. Moreover, GeoCurrents is not for venting one’s ideological agenda; please refer to GeoCurrents comments policy:

      • Darya Tsygankova

        Another country whose citizens are constantly migrating to Russia is Belarus .
        It is a small country , but migrants growth during 2014-2015 has increased by 34.4 % . Belarusians actively moved only Ukrainians , for obvious reasons .

        • Thank you for sharing this, Darya!

        • I did not find 34.4% in the wiki article, it says that net migration is positive, which is an official estimate

    • Randy McDonald

      “Ukraine was Russia’s main source of migrants, but now its even bigger due to their own increased attacks.”

      This is not the case. Since the collapse in Russia-Ukraine relations in 2014, Russia has imposed increasingly strict restrictions on Ukrainian migrants to Russia. Right now, only migrants from the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts seem to have relatively secure positions in Russia, owing to the war in those territories.

      (What effect Russia’s preferential acceptance of migrants from the Donbas, and the Donbas alone, will have on the region, the viability of these republics, and its position in Ukraine can only be imagined.)

      Meanwhile, Ukrainian migrants are responding to this closure by moving west, into the European Union.

  • UPDATE: Another fine set of maps illustrating the median age of male and female populations in Russia can be found here:

  • This is why the current impasse over Ukraine is so awkward and undesirable for all parties involved. The strain on Russia’s economy and society is not also affecting the rest of the world, but also leading to a self-destructive spiral that will be increasingly difficult to reverse.