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Russia, People and Society

northern Siberia, eastern Russia, western Siberia, rate of natural increase, European Russia

Russia’s total population in 2002 was estimated at 144,978,570, making the country the sixth most populous, after China, India, the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union the number of immigrants to Russia has exceeded the number of Russians leaving the country. However, the rate of natural increase (the number of births compared to the number of deaths) has been negative since 1992. In 2002 the birth rate was 9.7 per 1,000, while the death rate was 13.9 per 1,000.

Russia is the only major industrialized country in which demographic indices are worse than in earlier years, largely because illnesses have increased as the quality and availability of health care have declined. Although it has increased slightly since 1994, male life expectancy of 62 years in 2002 is still below the 64 years in 1990; female life expectancy during the same period dropped from 74 years to 73 years. Infant mortality rose from 17.4 deaths per 1,000 births in 1990 to 19.8 per 1,000 in 2002.

The overall population density of Russia is 8 persons per sq km (22 per sq mi), but the population is unevenly distributed across the country. The population density of a particular area generally reflects the land’s agricultural potential, with localized population centers occurring at mining and industrial centers. Most of the country’s people are concentrated in the so-called fertile triangle, which has its base along the western border between the Baltic and Black seas and tapers eastward across the southern Urals into southwestern Siberia. Although the majority of the population remains concentrated in European Russia, the country experienced substantial eastward migration before 1917 and after World War II (1939-1945), especially to southern and far eastern Siberia. Such migration was strongly encouraged by the government during the Soviet period. In recent years, this migration has been reversed, with many Russian citizens leaving northern Siberia and far eastern Russia for European Russia.

Throughout much of rural European Russia, the population density averages about 25 persons per sq km (65 per sq mi). The heaviest population densities are in sprawling urbanized areas such as Moscow Oblast. On the other hand, more than one-third of the country’s territory has a population density of fewer than 1 person per sq km (3 per sq mi). This includes part of northern European Russia and huge areas of Siberia.

From 1989 to 1996 nearly half of all urban settlements declined in population, although several towns and cities increased dramatically in size during the same period, especially those associated with oil and natural gas production in western Siberia and the Volga-Urals regions. The population in several towns in the North Caucasus area increased rapidly in the 1990s as a result of the inflow of refugees from war-torn Chechnya.

During the Soviet period thousands of ethnic Russians migrated to other Soviet republics. This trend began to reverse in the mid-1970s, and since the dissolution of the USSR in 1991 ethnic Russians have returned to the Russian Federation in even larger numbers. Southwestern Russia (from the North Caucasus to southwestern Siberia), Moscow, and Saint Petersburg have been the main destinations for immigrants. Foreign nationals, such as Chinese, have immigrated to far eastern Russia and large cities in European Russia in comparatively small numbers.

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