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Is Russia Turning Muslim?

4 December 2013 General No Comment Email This Post Email This Post

by Mark Adomanis (Forbes)

Earlier this week Daniel Pipes had a piece in the Washington Times about Russia’s rapid transformation into a Muslim-dominated society. The piece makes a number of arguments, but its central thesis is the following:

 Alcoholism-plagued ethnic Russians are said to have European birthrates and African death rates. Their women have on average 1.4 children, and their men have a life expectancy of 60 years. In Moscow, ethnic Christian women have 1.1 child.

In contrast, Muslim women bear 2.3 children on average and have fewer abortions than their Russian counterparts. In Moscow, Tatar women have six children and Chechen and Ingush women have 10.

I won’t get too spun up about the fact that Christianity is not an ethnicity, but the numbers Pipes cited seemed really off to me. I was particularly struck by the suggestion that any sizable group of people living in Moscow averages 10 children a women. That level of fertility would be superhuman in even the most rural location, but in Moscow it strains credulity past the breaking point. Moscow, after all, is one of the most expensive and crowded cities in the world: I simply can’t imagine the sorts of resources you would need in order to raise 10 children there.

Curious as to where Pipes got his numbers, I set out to try and see what the variation between ethnic Russian and Muslim birth rates actually is. Now as far as I am aware Rosstat, the Russian statistical agency, doesn’t publish any ethnically-based fertility or mortality statistics. I’ve spent an awful lot of time over the past few years looking through Rosstat databases, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen data on the birth or death rates of a particular ethnic group. It would be great to know what the alcohol poisoning rate was for all ethnic Russians or what the birth rate was for all ethnic Tatars, but, unfortunately, those don’t seem to be available.

Rosstat does, however, publish region-by-region fertility statistics. Additionally, as part of the 2010 census, Rosstat also collected regional data on ethnicity. Looking at the census data, you can therefore get a pretty clear idea about which regions are dominated by ethnic Russians and other ethnic Slavs. You can then look at the fertility rate in those same regions to try to see what the “Russian” birth rate actually is.

So I examined those regions that had populations that were more than 90% Slavic, a subset which had a total population of slightly more than 49 million people. I then calculated the weighed average fertility rate for this group. The result? Well, maybe not as dramatic as you might have expected.

Russian-Regions-TFR

So, in 2011, the most heavily Slavic parts of the country, areas with virtually no “national minorities,” had a fertility rate that was only about 3% lower than the all-Russian average. That’s a real difference, but not a shocking one.

Do traditionally Muslim areas of Russia have higher fertility than traditionally Russian ones? Yes, they do. But the weighted average TFR of traditionally Muslim areas (seven different regions inhabited by about 13.8 million people) is 1.94. It seems impossible to square Pipes’ contention that Chechen and Tatar women are averaging  6 and 10 children with the fact that even traditionally Muslim areas of Russia have below-replacement fertility. The population of Russia’s Muslim areas will still shrink, it will just do so more gradually than in traditionally Russian areas.

Now the above does not conclusively prove that there is not an enormous discrepancy between Russian and Muslim birth rates. It’s theoretically possible that even in the overwhelmingly Slavic regions I looked at that an extremely disproportionate share of the births are occurring among a small number of non-Slavs. For all I know there could be 10 Chechen “hero-mothers” in Bryansk  who have each had 30 children. But, based on the relevant data, it seems far more likely that the differences between different ethnic groups are a lot more muted than Pipes implied.

Will Russia’s Muslim population grow in the coming years? Yes, it will. Will that growth have political, economic, and social consequences? Yes it will. But it simply doesn’t seem to be true that Russians are being massively out-bred by more fecund minorities. The non-Russian share of the population will increase but it will do so in a glow and gradual manner, not the vaguely apocalyptic one  traced by Pipes. In this sense Russia is not a bizarre outlier but an awful lot like most European countries where the share of the titular nationality is set to decline gradually over the course of the 21st century.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkAdomanis

Original post: Is Russia Turning Muslim?

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