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Putin Urges Plan to Reverse Slide in Birth Rate

'Death Spiral'

Let's Do the Math…

PUTIN URGES PLAN TO REVERSE SLIDE IN THE BIRTH RATE. Putin directed Parliament on 10May06 to adopt a 10-year program to stop the sharp decline in Russia's population, principally by offering financial incentives and subsidies to encourage women to have children.

The instructions, issued to a compliant Parliament that follows his orders almost without fail, formed the center of his annual address and signaled a new Kremlin determination to confront a problem that demographers have warned endangers the future of the Russian state.

Russia's population, now about 143 million, has been falling since the collapse of the Soviet Union, trimmed by emigration, [abortion,] rising death rates and declining birthrates.

Both the government and demographers predict more downward pressure, including HIV infections, that could shrink the population below 100 million by 2050. Putin has raised the issue in the past, but never with such a clear set of instructions aimed at increasing the low birthrate, or at such length in a prominent speech.

Among his proposals were one-time cash grants to mothers upon the birth of a second child, extended maternity leave benefits and a graduating scale of cash and day-care subsidies as a woman has more children. "The situation is critical in that sphere," he said. Putin addressed several other themes, including the need to improve education, revitalize old industries and incubate new economic sectors, and he spent considerable time addressing plans to upgrade military and security services. But the most detailed of his plans were directed at the decline in population…Putin then warned that Russia's population had been declining by almost 700,000 people a year, and that the state must stop this fall. The shrinking birthrate could undermine the economy and tax the pension system, among other effects.

A number of other countries facing declining birthrates have offered similar incentives. Australia offers a $4,000 bonus for every baby, and recently proposed to pay all child care costs for women who want to work. Many European countries, including France, Italy and Poland, have offered some combination of bonuses and monthly payments to families.

Some Japanese localities, facing near catastrophic population loss, are offering rich incentives. Yamatsuri, a town of 7,000 just north of Tokyo, offers parents $4,600 for the birth of a child and $460 a year for 10 years. Singapore has a particularly lavish plan: $3,000 for the first child, $9,000 in cash and savings for the second; and up to $18,000 each for the third and fourth.

Russia has good reason to emulate them, for the underlying data are grim. In 2004, for every 16 Russians who died, only 10.4 babies were born. And the average age of death for a Russian man was 58.9 years, far below other industrial nations and roughly two decades behind the life expectancy for an American male.

Birthrates have also plummeted, falling from an average of 2.63 children per woman in 1958 and 1959, to 1.89 children in 1990 and to 1.34 children in 2004. These numbers are backed up by the sights on the streets of Russia's major cities, where families with more than a single child are a rare sight.
Much of the fall in the birthrate is caused by economic concerns: low wages, shortages of decent housing and worries over finding a job and keeping it in a volatile economy, and with laws that provide little job security.
Russian and international scholars and demographers have warned of the perils for years. One alarming report, "Russia's Health and Demographic Crises," by Dr. Murray Feshbach, was published in 2003.
The crisis, he wrote, is a result of "a constellation of occurrences that include not only infectious disease, but alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide, trauma injuries, astounding levels of cardiovascular disease, male/female estrangement and loss of family cohesion, declining physiological fertility, ugly environmental pollution and micronutrient starvation."
Since that report, several others have addressed the effects of rising rates of H.I.V. infection and limited efforts by the Russian government to thwart its spread. By projections often cited in health conferences here, between 5 and 10 percent of the population could be infected by H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS, within 15 years — not as high a rate as in countries with the worst epidemics, but astounding for a nation that had tiny rates of infection when the Soviet Union disintegrated.
In his speech, Mr. Putin moved quickly past the issues of adult health and did not mention H.I.V. at all.
Instead, he took up the cause of large families, which was once also championed by Soviet leaders. He called for a wide range of subsidies and financial incentives, some to be paid by the government and others by employers. These include increasing government subsidies for children up to 18 months to about $53 a month for a first child and about $107 for a second child. Mothers currently receive about $25 a month for a child up to 18 months old.
Mr. Putin also proposed maternity leaves as long as 18 months that would pay a mother at least 40 percent of her salary, and compensation for some of the cost of day care: 20 percent of the cost for a first child, 50 percent for a second child and 70 percent for a third.  For mothers who choose not to return to work, he proposed a one-time subsidy of about $8,900 upon the birth of a second child — a large sum here. He suggested subsidies for adoptive parents as well, and investments in prenatal care, maternity hospitals and kindergartens. Putin told the legislators to work on the details of these programs, and to have them ready to take effect in 2007.
State television swiftly threw its coverage behind the Kremlin. "Putin is setting strategic goals for the country's development on which the necessary financial resources will now be allocated," Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika Foundation, a consultancy with close connections to the Kremlin, said on the First Channel. [11May06,, Chivers, Moscow, 10May]

LET'S DO THE MATH… “I remembered an amazing statistic I'd read over a decade earlier in the pages of Harper's Magazine. The item concerned the space in which you could fit everybody if you bunched them up. I won't tell you what it was right off since I want you to guess. I [rece

ntly] pulled out a tape measure and marked a square yard on the floor. Then I called four college men forward to stand in that square, which they did comfortably. Then I asked the people to pick a geographical locale which all 6.4 billion folks on earth would fill if gathered together, four per square yard.

Go ahead, guess. Perhaps you could pick a state….

OK. I'll tell you. You couldn't even fill a state with them. Using my atlas, the closest I could come up with was the Hawaiian island of Maui, but I wasn't totally happy with that since you would still have room for around another billion people on the island. I've done a little more checking, and have found that Oahu is closer, but still too big. So are the city limits of Houston. Yes, you could put the entire world into Houston.

Let's do the math. How many square yards are there in a square mile? You have 1,760 on a side, so multiply 1,760 by 1,760, the same way you would get nine square feet in a square yard by multiplying three by three. Use a calculator if you must. The answer is 3,097,600 square yards in a square mile. Then multiply by four, since we are putting four people in each square yard. You get 12,390,400 people per square mile. Chances are your town is a least one square mile in area. Did you know you could squeeze over 12 million people into it?

Now divide 12,390,400 into 6.4 billion to see how many square miles it would take to hold everybody. The answer is 532.67 square miles, or 533 rounded off. That's about a 23-mile square. Houston's area is 596 square miles, so you'd have an extra 60 square miles, room for another three quarters of a billion or so.
If you spread out, giving each person his own square yard and a folding chair, you could just about seat everyone in Delaware. If you gave everyone ten square yards (a 30-foot square, or 900 square feet — a small apartment), you could fit all 6.4 billion people into Texas. The point is simple. We've got room.

Don't let the fear of overcrowding discourage you…

[Mark Coppenger is pastor of Evanston (Ill.) Baptist Church and distinguished professor of apologetics at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column originally appeared in The Illinois Baptist, the newspaper of the Illinois Baptist State Association. [ excerpts from Be Fruitful and Multiply by Mark T. Coppenger, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary] 

'DEATH SPIRAL' "In the late 20th century, some environmental extremists confidently predicted that, as the world ran out of various things … humanity would be crushed beneath rampant 'overpopulation.' At the beginning of the 21st century, the world is still chock-full of natural resources. Europe, however, is running out of the most crucial resource — people. The overall picture is sobering enough. Not a single [European Union] member has a replacement-level fertility rate, i.e., the 2.1 children per woman needed to maintain a stable population. Moreover, 11 EU countries — including Germany, Austria, Italy, Hungary, and all three Baltic states — display 'negative natural increase' (i.e., more annual deaths than births), a clear step down into a demographic death-spiral… 

"Over the next quarter-century, the number of workers in Europe will decline by 7 percent while the number of over-65s will increase by 50 percent, trends that will create intolerable fiscal difficulties for the welfare state across the continent. … Demography is destiny, and Europe's demographics of decline — which are unparalleled in human history, absent wars, plagues, and natural catastrophes — are creating enormous and unavoidable problems." [George Weigel, writing on "Europe's Two Culture Wars," May06, Commentary,]]