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Russian Population Faces Crisis Infant Mortality Up While Life Expectancy Plummets

Fewer births, more deaths and the prospect of shorter lives are bringing Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union to a population catastrophe, according to a private study.

While many developing countries still try to cope with a population boom, the report shows a region facing the gloom of dwindling populations that could further inhibit economic growth.

The Russian death rate has gone up from 11.2 per 1,000 people in 1990 to 14.5 per 1,000 in 1993, said a study by the private Population Reference Bureau. Infant mortality since the breakup of the old Soviet Union has risen from 14 per 1,000 births to 30.

The latest data also shows that about every 10 Russian women can expect to have 14 babies in the course of their lives, about the same number as American or German women. A decade ago, the figure for 10 Russian women was 21 babies, an average of more than two each.

Carl Haub, the report’s author, said Russian population experts are beginning to ask where the country will get its future labor force. He added that they might also ask where it will get army recruits.

One reason for the decline is that Russians are pessimistic about their prospects for jobs and housing, Haub said Monday.

“People ask themselves: ‘Can I afford to bring another child into the world?”’ he said. “The answer is definitely no.”

Haub said when Russian women are asked what they would do if they became pregnant, only about one in seven now says she would have the baby.

He found a downward trend in the European republics of the former Soviet Union, with Ukraine and the three Baltic republics as well as Russia all showing declines from 1993 to 1994. The trend also spreads across the Caucasus and central Asia, where birth rates have been traditionally high. Georgia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan also showed declines.

Haub, at a news conference on the report, said figures not yet published in Russia, brought here by a U.S. census official, showed that of 262,000 additional deaths in 1992, there were 127,000 from circulatory causes, such as strokes and heart attacks.

Another 70,000 deaths came from “external” causes - murder, suicide, alcohol poisoning, accidents, he said.

The average boy baby of the 1990 Soviet Union could expect to live 63.8 years, the 1993 boy in the region only 58.9 years.

The expectancy for girl babies dropped from 74.3 years to 71.9. Haub called this drop “absolutely unheard of.”

Haub’s latest figures show the Russian birth rate down from 13.4 per thousand people in 1990 to 9.4 per thousand in 1993. The U.S. rate last year was estimated at 15.2.

The Population Reference Bureau is a private research institution financed by grants and contracts.