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‘In the Context of a Strong Demographic Policy’

Dr. Jose Antonio Ortega from the University of Salamanka (Universidad de Salamanca) will be one of the speakers at the XIV HSE April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development. He gave a special interview for the HSE news service.

— The title of your report is "Cohort and Period Birth Replacement in the European Republics of the Former Soviet Union, 1946-2010". Why did you choose this issue for your research?

— This presentation will be the first application of new simple ways of measuring population replacement that I have devised. The European countries of the former Soviet Union share a deep concern about their demographic development. Populations are already declining or are expected to do so, and the number of births is small compared to the size of the mothers’ generation. Many of these countries have an explicit fertility policy arising out of this concern. In fact, there has recently been a small turnaround in fertility trends as shown by the total fertility rate. What my new measures emphasize is that we should be more concerned about the number of births itself, and its relation to the parents’ generation size, rather than fertility. There are different situations in the region, but in many countries the reason why births are few has been at least as much if not more to do with migration trends as with fertility.

— How did you carry out your research? Have you been working in the former Soviet Union countries? How long have you been studying the issue?

— The new measure, the Birth Replacement Sum, is closely related to the Birth Replacement Ratio that I proposed in 2007. It requires only information on births classified according to the age of the mother.  This information is available for all the countries involved, from National Statistics Offices, academic projects and international organizations. I should mention in this respect Demoscope, an HSE project that makes such a great contribution to the public and academic debate on population topics in Russia and the former Soviet Union. Demoscope has given me access to very useful information from the Soviet period that cannot be found elsewhere. Also, knowing Russian has been key for me, since it remains the lingua franca  in many countries and has unlocked doors to otherwise unobtainable information. Regarding my work experience on the region, I had not previously done work focussing solely on post Soviet countries, but I was aware of demographic developments there when I was head of the Fertility Section at the United Nations Population Division. I also did work at the turn of the century on the emergence of lowest low fertility, fertility levels below 1.3 children per woman that had not been observed before, and that concentrated in the former Socialist countries in Europe, including all the European FSU with the exception of Azerbaijan, and South East Europe.

— What are the key findings of your research?

— Around the year 2000, Georgia and Armenia reported some of the lowest fertility levels at 1.1 children per woman. The population censuses showed in 2001 that there was a problem with measuring the population since many more people had left the country than expected. This implied that fertility levels had really been closer to 1.4 children per woman. What this research shows is that it is not important whether the low number of births is due to low fertility or to emigration, and emigration has been intense in most countries in the region since the transition period. For both of these reasons birth replacement remains very low in most countries in the region, at 1.4 or below, with levels as low as 1 child per woman in Latvia and Moldova despite a fertility of 1.3. Russia is, in this respect, the exception: a strong pronatalist policy has been associated with a steady increase in the number of births back to the levels of 1991 and a high birth replacement of 1.7, higher than a fertility of 1.6 due to the birth contribution of immigrants.

Regarding the timing of fertility, the new measures, unlike the birth replacement ratio, include age-specific components of birth replacement: birth densities. These show a difference between the Baltic states, characterized by relatively late birth replacement, at 29 years, and the other countries, at around 26, with Russia in an intermediate position at 27 years. In a below replacement context, later fertility contributes to a slower reduction in the number of births.

— What's next on your research agenda? Is it also connected with the post-Soviet countries?

— I am currently working on a whole set of new demographic indicators that I call event-centered. The birth replacement sum is just one of them. There are applications to mortality, marriage and, basically, any demographic phenomenon. Regarding applications to the post-Soviet countries, I have several priorities: the first one is to extend the analysis back in time to be able to cover the whole 20th century and analyze demographic developments in the Former Soviet Union with a two-sex perspective. Unlike other reproduction indicators, birth replacement for the two sexes are by construction very similar, but in the context of extreme sex imbalances after the wars, these similar levels are reached in different ways for men and women: for men, low survival and high fertility, whereas for women higher survival and low fertility, with a high incidence of childlessness. The two other applications are connected with the territorial dimension of reproduction. Previous research on the Spanish provinces has shown how important the contribution of local migration streams can be in understanding local demographic dynamics and population replacement. The new measures are well suited to separate the incidence of natural factors and migration in the urbanization process, and statistics in Russia and the Former Soviet Union are rich in reporting births and population according to place of residence. Local analysis of the reproduction process is also extremely interesting, with places like Moscow growing by capturing population from the rest of the nation, and other regions in such a vast country struggling to get ahead. I think these topics deserve more attention, particularly in the context of a strong demographic policy.

— Have you been to Russia and Moscow before? If yes, what are your favorite places and observations?

— This is my first professional trip to Russia, but I have been there on private trips as often as possible. Moscow is a special place, a very dynamic city that keeps its links to history. I enjoy very much the contrast between the city rhythm and the peace of parks such as Kolomenskoye or the Hermitage Sad, or following in the footsteps of Mikhail Bulgakov, one of my favorite writers. Russia is full of impressive underappreciated heritage. Volgograd is a case in point, a city that fully deserves to be in the UNESCO world heritage list. Traditional wooden architecture is a gem, with places like the extraordinary Kizhy Island. This summer the world congress of the IUSSP will take place in South Korea and I enjoy travelling in Russia so much that I plan to go there overland, experiencing the size of the country on the Transiberian railway, which will give me the opportunity to visit such interesting places as Ekaterinburg, Irkutsk and lake Baikal along the way.

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to present my work and share my thoughts and feelings about a place and people close to my heart.

Anna Chernyakhovskaya, especially for the HSE News Service

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