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Demography of Russia

Settlement patterns

Commencing in the latter part of the 19th century and persisting well into the following hundred years, a significant migratory movement was observed within Russia. A substantial number of individuals relocated from the European segment of the nation to the expansive region of Siberia. Despite encompassing approximately three-quarters of Russia’s land area, Siberia is home to a mere one-fifth of the country’s populace. The majority of the Russian population, approximately four-fifths, resides within the principal habitation belt of European Russia. This area stretches from St. Petersburg in the northwest to Kemerovo in Siberia, and from Orsk in the southern Ural Mountains to Krasnodar in the northern Caucasus.

Within the rural localities of this densely populated belt, the population density varies between 25 to 250 individuals per square mile. The denser clusters are typically found in the wooded steppe regions. Urban centers, particularly the city of Moscow, exhibit population densities that align with those of other major European cities. Conversely, to the east of the Ural Mountains, traversing the southern expanse of the West Siberian Plain, the rural population density diminishes markedly, seldom surpassing 65 individuals per square mile. Past the Yenisey River, the pattern of settlement disperses, forming isolated pockets of habitation in the far south, predominantly along the Trans-Siberian Railroad corridor, with the most notable concentration in the Amur-Ussuri-Zeya lowlands of southeastern Siberia.

During the latter half of the 20th century, a significant trend of rural depopulation became evident, with the phenomenon occurring at a more accelerated rate within the European part of Russia. In the final decades of the century, the rural population in the European sector experienced a reduction of approximately 25%, although an increase was noted in the region now designated as the Southern federal district. The migration trend was particularly pronounced among the younger demographic, resulting in a rural composition that is now predominantly elderly.

The majority of the rural populace is situated in sizable villages that are historically linked to the collective and state farming systems—kolkhozy and sovkhozy—implemented during the Soviet era. These agricultural communities have perpetuated the longstanding Russian tradition of communal farming based in concentrated settlements. Post-Soviet years witnessed the re-emergence of individual farming enterprises. By the year 1995, the number of private farms approached 300,000. However, the subsequent decade saw a stagnation or decrease in these figures. Despite their presence, private farms contribute a minimal portion of the nation’s agricultural yield. Extensive areas of sparsely populated or uninhabited land stretch to the north of the main habitation belt. The minority republic of Sakha (Yakutia) serves as a quintessential example of such regions, with an area close to 1.2 million square miles (3.1 million square kilometers) and a population of around one million, resulting in a density of less than one individual per square mile.

Since the advent of the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century, there has been a marked escalation in urbanization, propelled by industrial and economic expansion. Currently, approximately 75% of the Russian population resides in areas designated as urban. Moscow, the nation’s most populous city, boasts a population that is double that of St. Petersburg, its closest competitor in size. St. Petersburg, in turn, significantly surpasses other prominent Russian cities such as Chelyabinsk, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod (previously known as Gorky), Novosibirsk, Omsk, Perm, Rostov-na-Donu, Samara (formerly Kuybyshev), Ufa, and Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk) in terms of population.

These cities are primarily located in key industrial regions, which have become hubs of urban activity. St. Petersburg, once the imperial capital, is a unique entity as the most northern metropolis. Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod are integral to the densely populated central industrial region, which is home to numerous large cities and smaller towns, with its urban inhabitants constituting around 20% of Russia’s total population. In contrast, the Ural Mountains region features a more dispersed array of towns, including several small mining and industrial communities and towns exceeding 250,000 residents, cumulatively accounting for roughly half the urban population of the Moscow region.

The Volga region, with a slightly smaller population, has urban settlements spread along the banks of the river, with a notable clustering around Samara. Additionally, European Russia encompasses a segment of the Donets Basin (Donbass) industrial area, which is bisected by the Russia-Ukraine border, with Rostov-na-Donu as its largest city, among other smaller urban centers.

The principal urban agglomeration to the east of the Ural Mountains is in the Kuznetsk Basin (Kuzbass), a center for mining and industry. Significant cities are also found at intervals along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, including Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, Chita, Khabarovsk, and Vladivostok, from west to east. Some highly remote cities, such as the ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk and the mining centers of Vorkuta and Norilsk, are situated in the far north. The North Caucasus region is known for its resort towns, including Sochi on the Black Sea, Pyatigorsk, and Mineralnye Vody. In other regions, the provincial capitals and administrative division centers have developed into significant urban locales, serving as the administrative hubs for their respective territories.

Demographic trends

In the decade of the 1990s, Russia encountered a demographic downturn characterized by a shrinking population growth rate. This trend was primarily attributed to a reduction in fertility rates, a phenomenon observed among ethnic Russians and akin to patterns in Japan and numerous Western European nations. Concurrently, there was a significant decline in average life expectancy commencing in the early 1990s, indicative of systemic shortcomings within the healthcare infrastructure, suboptimal nutritional standards, and exacerbated by elevated rates of tobacco and alcohol consumption, as well as environmental contamination.

The reduction in life expectancy was more acute among the male population, leading to a widening disparity between the number of males and females within Russia. Despite this, certain minority groups, particularly those with Islamic affiliations, exhibited higher natural population growth due to birth rates surpassing mortality rates.

Historically, migratory movements from the European part of Russia to Siberia accounted for regional disparities in demographic growth. For instance, during the 1980s, Russia’s population saw an approximate increase of 7 percent, with certain Siberian regions experiencing growth rates above 15 percent, while some areas in Western Russia had less than 2 percent growth. However, the 1990s witnessed a notable population decrease in Eastern Siberia, as reported by official data, primarily due to significant emigration prompted by the gradual elimination of extensive state subsidies that the region had heavily relied upon.

As a consequence of the persistently low birth rates, Russia has been facing an incremental aging of its populace. In the early 21st century, data showed that approximately one-sixth of the Russian population was under the age of 15, while those aged 60 and above constituted more than one-fifth. The demographic composition varied among ethnic groups, with non-Russian ethnicities displaying a higher proportion of children and a lower proportion of elderly, maintaining a relatively elevated birth rate. The aging demographic profile coupled with dwindling fertility rates has led demographers to project potential long-term labor shortages in the future.

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