With a total population of about 140,702,090 (2008 estimate), Russia is one of the world’s most populous countries. More than 100 nationalities inhabit Russia, making it one of the largest multinational states in the world. Russians, a Slavic people, are the predominant nationality, comprising more than 80 per cent of the total population. The largest of the non-Russian minorities, the Tatars, comprise only 3.8 per cent of the total. The Ukrainians (3 per cent) and the Chuvash (1.2 per cent) are the only other minorities constituting more than 1 per cent of the population. Other minorities include Avars, Armenians, Bashkirs, Belorussians, Jews, Germans, Mari, Moldovans, and Udmurts.
The overall population density of Russia is about 8 people per sq km (21 people per sq mi). Population distribution across the country, however, is extremely uneven. The population density of a particular area generally reflects the land’s agricultural potential, with localized population nodes occurring at mining and industrial centres. 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 then tapers eastward across the southern Urals into south-western Siberia.
Although the majority of the population remains concentrated in European Russia, there was substantial eastward migration after World War II, especially to southern Siberia and Far Eastern Russia as new industries and farming areas were opened up. Relations between Russia and Estonia remain tense over unsettled borders along the western frontier. Throughout much of rural European Russia the population density averages about 25 people per sq km (65 per sq mi). The country’s heaviest population densities are found in sprawling urbanized areas, such as the Moscow oblast. More than one third of Russia has a population density of less than 1 person per sq km (2.6 per sq mi). This includes part of northern European Russia and huge areas in Siberia.
The demographic structure of Russia has undergone profound changes over the past decade or so, with the greatest changes during the 1990s. Like other economically more developed countries, Russia’s birth and fertility rates have been declining over many decades. Official figures, however, show that this trend has intensified since the mid-1980s. The birth rate has halved, from nearly 20 live births per 1,000 population in the mid-1980s to 11 per 1,000 in 2008. During the same period the total fertility rate—the average number of children born to a woman during her reproductive life—has registered one of the largest falls among the economically more developed countries. Russia’s total fertility rate during the second half of the 1980s averaged 2.1 children born per woman, the rate usually considered to be the minimum necessary to maintain existing population levels. By 2008 it had fallen to just 1.4 children born per woman, one of the lowest rates in the world.
Mortality rates, by contrast, have shown a dramatic reversal of the downward trend that has characterized the modern era. The overall death rate has jumped from about 10.5 per 1,000 in the mid-1980s to 16.1 per 1,000 in 2008. Infant mortality rates have also risen, from 19.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in the late 1980s to 11 per 1,000 in 2008. The rise in mortality is reflected in the sharp decline in life expectancy during the 1990s, from an average of almost 69 years for the population as a whole at the early 1990s to 66 years in 2008. This is one of the worst figures among economically more developed countries, comparing for example with an average life expectancy of about 77 years in the countries of the EU.
The average figure also conceals sharp differences between the sexes. Male life expectancy has fallen since the start of the 1990s, from an average of 64 years to just 59 years in 2008. The decline in female life expectancy, however, has been less, from 73 years to 73 years. The impact of these demographic changes means that in Russia deaths outnumber births. In 1989 there were 1.6 million deaths and 2.2 million births; by 1995 the figures had reversed, with 2.2 million deaths and 1.4 million births. The result is a rapidly declining population that is beginning to cause concern to the authorities, who fear depopulation of many of the more remote areas. Russia’s population growth rate is now -0.47 per cent (2008). Overall, the country’s population has fallen by more than 600,000 since 1992; if the effects of migration are excluded the decline is nearer 2 million. The change in Russia’s population structure reflects a variety of factors. The large drop in male life expectancy, for example has been attributed to the high levels of alcohol consumption and smoking among Russian men, as well as to the psychological stresses created by the rapid changes in the economy, rising unemployment, and increased uncertainty. Russian researchers have identified the greatest rise in mortality among poorly educated, unemployed urban males, who have been unable to adapt to the country’s new economic conditions. A general deterioration in health levels due to a worsening of people’s diet as a result of rising food prices, and to poor environmental conditions, especially air and water pollution, have contributed to the general rise in mortality levels. So too have the shortages of medicines and vaccines, and the deterioration in state-run medical services generally, that have resulted from funding cuts. There has been a marked increase in levels of preventable diseases such as diphtheria and tuberculosis, as well as in bronchial asthma and other respiratory diseases, dysentery, and typhoid. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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