Growing up in St. Petersburg, Dasha, a 29-year-old salesperson and artist, dreamed of having a “whole family.” Raised by her mother and her grandmother, her father left her when she was in elementary school.
“I grew up thinking that I would be married and have my own family before I was 25,” he told Fortune.
But Russia‘s political instability and financial uncertainties have recently led her to forego having children. In Dasha’s lifetime, Russian President Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine twice; the consequences of the war have taken a heavy toll on ordinary Russians like her. Life in Russia has become “too complex,” she says, with economic worries coupled with fears about an increasingly autocratic government.
Dasha is just one of many young Russian women whose stance on having children is indicative of the economic and political anxieties facing the country today. Fortune chose not to publish the full names of the people interviewed for fear of government retaliation.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has faced continued population decline due to low birth rates coupled with high death rates. Throughout his rule, Russian President Vladimir Putin has been obsessed with Russia’s declining population. Last year, Putin encouraged Russians to build a “strong family [with] two, three or four children. [This] it should be the image of a future Russia.” This August, she revived the Soviet-era “Mother Heroine” prize, which awards $16,000 to women who have 10 or more children.
But the Kremlin’s recent actions, such as its failed response to the pandemic and its war in Ukraine, show that “Putin’s regime does not serve the Russian people,” Dasha said. Young Russians who now face an increasingly precarious future are delaying or refusing to have children, or leaving the country for the sake of their children, which could spell trouble for Putin’s vision of a strong country and large population.
When Putin came to power in 2000, Russia’s fertility rate was 1.25 births per woman, the lowest point in its history. In 2006, he described Russia’s demographic decline as “the most acute problem facing our country today”; increasing Russia’s population has been at the top of his agenda ever since.
The following year, the Kremlin launched its “maternity capital” scheme, an unprecedented program to increase birth rates through incentives such as extended maternity leave and cash grants for families with children, helped in part by by the oil boom of the 2000s. In the early 2010s, as the Kremlin began doling out family benefits and millennials came of age, Russia saw a modest increase in birth rates, from 1.3 births per woman in 2006 to 1.8 in 2014, but this turned out to be only temporary.
After Russia’s invasion of Crimea in 2014, the country’s fertility rates began to fall again, falling from 1.6 in 2017 to 1.5 in 2019, much lower than the 2.1 rate needed to maintain a stable population without migration.
Russia’s economy and standard of living were affected by the 2008 global financial crisis and the subsequent drop in oil prices. But the Kremlin’s invasion of Crimea in 2014 led to a collapse in foreign investment: FDI fell to $6.8 billion in 2015 from $69 billion in 2013. Meanwhile, Russian disposable income plummeted. 13% between 2014 and 2018, which generated uncertainties about the future and family planning. “Things have been pretty bad for us since 2014,” Dasha said.
Then came Putin’s “incompetent management” of the COVID-19 pandemic, which exacerbated Russia’s overall population decline, economist Sergei Guriev, rector of Paris’ Science Po and a researcher at the Center for Policy Research, told Fortune. Economic. The state-produced Sputnik vaccine failed to gain public trust, resulting in one of the lowest vaccination rates in the world (only 54% of Russia’s adult population is fully vaccinated) and one of the worst rates. COVID mortality. Russia recorded 1 million deaths in 2021 alone, the largest population decline since the fall of the Soviet Union (independent demographers have also accused the government of undercounting COVID deaths).
Now, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February could deal another blow to Putin’s dream of resuming the nation’s population growth by 2030.
Russia’s fertility rate plunged 6.5% from January to September this year, and new enrollments in the Kremlin’s maternity program fell by 12.6%. Meanwhile, the country’s death rate has reached the highest level since the end of World War II.
“Many people don’t want to have children because of the anxiety and uncertainty due to war and mobilization,” Kseniya Kirillova, an analyst at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) think tank, told Fortune. The economic turmoil unleashed by Putin’s war has made it more difficult for households to plan for the future, Igor Gretskiy, a researcher at the Estonian Institute of Foreign Policy, told Fortune.
Western sanctions have isolated Russia from the global economy, which has hit young Russians especially hard. For Marina, a 29-year-old content creator, Russia’s war in Ukraine has robbed her of job opportunities and saddled her with higher costs of living. Before February, she had partnerships with international brands on her social media channels and odd jobs as a part-time model. “Now, I’m struggling with [a] lack of opportunities to travel and work abroad. Working online is a problem due to sanctions. Flights, visas, bank cards, now they cost three to five times more for us. There are many nights where I can’t sleep, because I don’t know what the future holds for me,” he told Fortune. “Since I was 21 years old, people [in Russia] They have been telling me that I need to be a mother. I wasn’t so sure, due to my lifestyle. But the war really convinced me that I shouldn’t have children because how can I afford it? She will leave Russia permanently this month.
During the first months of the war, Russia experienced a wave of optimism and support for the government. But as the war progressed, “the public sees the economic situation much more realistically than in the spring… and has begun to suspect that Putin’s military adventure is being carried out at their expense,” Boris Grozovski wrote. , a Russian public educator. for the Wilson Center research institute last week. A recent internal government poll found that just 25% of Russians supported continuing the war, up from 57% in July, according to the independent publication Meduza.
Niki, a 28-year-old video blogger, gained a following online by documenting daily life in Russia. She told Fortune that financial anxiety plays the biggest role in young people’s decisions to avoid or delay having children, more so than older generations. Russian millennials and Generation Z are “more conscious about building their families. They want a good job and stable income. [first] before thinking about having children,” she said.
Gretskiy, who has researched the attitudes of Russian Generation Z and millennials towards the state and war, said that Generation Z “relies on the state to a much lesser extent. [than their predecessors]. They have somewhat different life priorities: self-actualization and freedom of choice.
After February, young Russians were prevented from carving out successful and lucrative careers in international companies because new Western sanctions effectively cut off Russia from the world, Niki said. For Russia’s Generation Z, working at a foreign company is “the most coveted thing,” Gretskiy said.
“As a rule, Russians tend to put off hav[ing] children if they don’t trust their ability to provide,” Gretskiy said. For many Russians today, “planning horizons are so short that child-rearing plans are still in doubt,” another impediment to resuming Russia’s population growth, science researcher Margarita Zavadskaya told Fortune. social studies at the University of Helsinki.
The financial concerns of young people have been compounded by political uncertainties, such as increasing government pressure for patriotic education to instill in children unconditional love and support for the state. In September, the Russian Ministry of Education ordered schools across the country to teach a weekly lesson called “Important Conversations” to teach “traditional values” and “true” patriotism. Children will be tested on their understanding of “correct” proverbs such as “[the] happiness of [Russia] it is more precious than life.”
The Kremlin’s political education efforts have been the catalyst for some young people, particularly those living in big cities, not having children. Katya, a 35-year-old sociology researcher, is undecided about having children. But she tells Fortune that if she decides to have a mother, she doesn’t want to raise her children in Russia.
“Russian public schools are the target of very strong government propaganda, which terrifies me. They teach kids terrible things like how to use guns and justify current policy. [using] nonsense arguments,” he said. Tanya, a 25-year-old public relations professional based in Moscow, told Fortune that about 70% of her friends have left the country since February. “Young couples, some of whom have young children or want children, are more concerned about Russia’s crazy education system,” she said.
Putin’s war in Ukraine is making another “important contribution” to Russia’s population decline, Guriev said. Russia has now recorded 100,000 battlefield deaths, 300,000 men mobilized and the mass exodus of at least 700,000 Russians, mostly young and educated. “In such a situation, a reasonable question arises: with whom should a woman start a family and give birth to children from her?” Kirillova said.
Russia’s demographic problem has yet to deteriorate into a full-blown crisis as the state and society continue to function, Peter Rutland, a professor of government who studies contemporary Russian politics and economics at the University of Russia, told Fortune. Wesleyan. Experts point out that Russia’s fertility rates and population decline are not as bad as they were during the early post-Soviet years; Russia’s fertility growth rates from 1991 to 1996 averaged -5.5%, compared with 0.8% from 2015 to 2020. Still, “most long-term forecasts predict a decline in fertility.” Russian population. [An] An optimistic scenario would imply large-scale institutional reforms “that seem highly unlikely,” Russian economist Evgeny Gontmakher wrote in January.
And the growing uncertainties of young Russians about the future could worsen the country’s demographic forecasts, which are already dire.
“Living in Russia today is psychologically and financially uncomfortable. How can we even think about children during this time?