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Regular version of the site

Researching the Past in Order to Foresee the Future

During the conference Low Fertility and Low Mortality: Observable Reality and Visions of the Future, dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the HSE Institute of Demography, leading international researchers not only presented their reports, but also shared their impressions about their collaborations  with their Russian colleagues.

Vladimir Shkolnikov, former Research Fellow of the HSE Institute of Demography, Head of the Laboratory of Demographic Data at the Max Plank Institute for Demographic Research (Germany), and Director of the Center for Demographic Research at the New Economic School noted that the combination of low fertility and low mortality was a relatively new phenomenon for humankind and that it was important to determine the consequences. In Russia, as in many developed countries, the fertility rate is lower than the replacement level.  But the mortality rate in Russia is extremely high, especially among the middle-aged and older population. At the same time, infant mortality in the country is rather low and continues to decline.

Massimo Livi Bacci, Professor at the University of Florence, presented a report with an historical emphasis. He analyzed different time periods of low fertility that resulted in a population decline or extinction. A fertility decrease is typical during wars, plagues, and famine. But during peacetime, fertility rates have always been high, except when the very ‘fabric of society’ was changing.  According to Professor Livi Bacci, it’s rather difficult to determine the reason for the current low fertility rates in developed countries. Some researchers point to changes in the labour market, which include the mass integration of women into the workplace — they simply don’t have enough time to bring up more than one child. It’s also unclear how long the phenomenon can last and whether the fertility rate will ever reach the replacement level.

France Meslé and Jacques Vallin, demographers from France, researched mortality trends from an historical perspective. These trends help describe the situation with mortality in the future. Professors  Meslé and Vallin have been carrying out joint projects with Anatoly Vishnevsky and his colleagues for more than 20 years already. They are trying to find out why life expectancy in most European countries keeps growing while in some post-Soviet countries, it doesn’t change or is even decreasing.

Barbara Anderson, Professor at the University of Michigan, presented a report on the methodology of demographic forecasts and their reliability.

Prominent Czech demographer Zdenek Pavlik drew the audience’s attention to the fact that demographic differences among European countries could be traced by the mortality rate, which is growing from West to East. Professor Pavlik also pointed out the ever-growing role of migration, which is determined by two factors: the push factor (when a population is ousted from a territory due to military conflict, or social or ecological catastrophes), and the pull factor (when migrants are attracted to new territories). Professor Pavlik noted that social and economic development that gives rise to a certain mental attitude is more important for a country, than its demographic policy. He added that humankind needs to believe in a bright future and look forward with optimism.

Oleg Seregin, HSE news service

Photos by Nikita Benzoruk

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