Demographics of the Soviet Union

Demographics of the Soviet Union

This articles details the demographics of the Soviet Union.

According to data from the last Soviet censuses, the majority of the population of Soviet Union was atheist, ethnic Russian and lived in Eastern Europe and in Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, the Soviet Republic which had two-thirds of the land of USSR.

East Slavs were about 70% of the population, while Turkic peoples were about 12%; all other peoples were below 10%. There were alongside the 57% officially atheists sizable minorities of Russian Orthodox (approx. 20%) and Muslim (approx. 15%) followers.

Most of the population spoke the Russian language and used the Cyrillic alphabet.


January 1897 (Russia): 125,640,000***
1911(Russia): 167,003,000**
January 1920 : 137,727,000*
January 1926 : 148,656,000*
January 1937: 162,500,000*
January 1939: 168,524,000*
June 1941: 196,716,000*
January 1946: 170,548,000*
January 1951: 182,321,000*
January 1959: 209,035,000*
January 1970:241,720,000
1985: 272,000,000
July 1991:293,047,571
* Andreev, E.M., "et al.", "Naselenie Sovetskogo Soiuza, 1922-1991". Moscow, Nauka, 1993. ISBN 5-02-013479-1 The U.S.S.R. lost territories with about 30 million inhabitants after World War I (Poland 18 mil; Finland 3 mil; Romania 3 mil; the Baltic states 5 mil and Kars to Turkey 400 thous.). Population of June 1941 includes 20,270,000 in territories annexed by USSR in 1939-45 net of population transfers.( Poland 10 mil; Baltic States 5.6 mil; Romania 3.8 mil; Czechoslovakia 700 thous. and Tuva 100 thous.)
World War II Losses were 26.6 million including an increase in infant mortality of 1.3 million, total war losses includes territories annexed by USSR in 1939-45. **Data from Statoids webpage [] . ***Russian Empire Census (1897)

See History of the Soviet Union.

Population growth rate:0.7% (1991)

Crude birth rate:17 births/1,000 population (1991)

Crude death rate:10 deaths/1,000 population (1991)

Net migration rate:0 migrants/1,000 population (1991)

Infant mortality rate:23 deaths/1,000 live births (1991)

Life expectancy at birth:65 years male, 74 years female (1991)

Total fertility rate:2.4 children born/woman (1991)

Ethnic groups:The Soviet Union was one of the world's most ethnically diverse countries, with more than 100 distinct national ethnicities living within its borders.

Ethnic divisions:
Russians 50.78%, Ukrainians 15.45%, Uzbeks 5.84%, Belarusians 3.51%, Kazakhs 2.85%, Azeris 2.38%, Armenians 1.62%, Tajik 1.48%, Georgians 1.39%, Moldovans 1.17%, Lithuanians 1.07%,
Turkmen 0.95%, Kyrgyz 0.89%, Latvians 0.51%, Estonians 0.36%, other 9.75%

Religion:Russian Orthodox 20%, Muslim 15%, Protestant, Georgian Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, and Roman Catholic 7%, Jewish less than 1%, atheist 57% (est.)

Russian (official); more than 200 languages and dialects (at least 18 with more than 1 million speakers); Slavic group 75%, other Indo-European 8%, Altaic 12%, Uralian 3%, Caucasian 2%

Literacy:98% (male 99%, female 97%) age 15 and over can read and write (1989)

Labor force:152,300,000 civilians; industry and othernonagricultural fields 80%, agriculture 20%; shortage of skilled labor (1989).

Although the population growth rate decreased over time, it remained positive throughout the history of the USSR in all republics, and the population grew each year by more than 2 million except during periods of wartime, collectivisation, and famine (see famines in Russia and USSR and Ukrainian famine).

Population dynamics in the 1970s and 1980s

The crude birth rate in the USSR throughout its history had been decreasing - from 44.0 per thousand in 1926 to 18.0 in 1974, mostly due to urbanization and rising average age of marriages. The crude death rate had been gradually decreasing as well - from 23.7 per thousand in 1926 to 8.7 in 1974. cite book|title=Great Soviet Encyclopedia.|publisher=Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya |edition = 3rd ed.|pages = vol. 24 (part II), p. 15|year=1977|location=Moscow|language=Russian] While death rates did not differ greatly across regions of the USSR through much of Soviet history, birth rates in southern republics of Transcaucasia and Central Asia were much higher than those in the northern parts of the Soviet Union, and in some cases even increased in the post-World War II period. This was partly due to slower rates of urbanization and traditionally early marriages in southern republics.

As a result mainly of differential birthrates, with most of the "European" nationalities moving toward sub-replacement fertility and the Central Asian and other nationalities of southern republics having well-above replacement-level fertility, the percentage who were Russians was gradually being reduced. According to some Western scenarios of the 1990s, if the Soviet Union had stayed together it is likely that Russians would have lost their majority status in the first decade of the 21st century. [Barbara A. Anderson and Brian D. Silver. 1990. "Growth and Diversity of the Population of the Soviet Union," "Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences," No. 510: 155-77.] This differential could not be offset by assimilation of non-Russians by Russians, in part because the nationalities of southern republics maintained a distinct ethnic consciousness and were not easily assimilated.

The late 1960s and the 1970s witnessed a dramatic reversal of the path of declining mortality in the USSR, and was especially notable among men in working ages, and also especially in Russia and other predominantly Slavic areas of the country. [The first to call attention to the reversal of declining adult mortality in the USSR (in contrast to trends in Western Europe) were J. Vallin and J. C. Chesnais, "Recent Developments of Mortality in Europe, English-Speaking Countries and the Soviet Union, 1960-1970," "Population" 29 (4-5): 861-898. For a probe into the age-specific and regional aspects of the trends, once new mortality tables were released in the late 1980s, see Barbara A. Anderson and Brian D. Silver. 1989. "The Changing Shape of Soviet Mortality, 1958-1985: An Evaluation of Old and New Evidence," "Population Studies" 43: 243-265. Also see Alain Blum and Roland Pressat. 1987. "Une nouvelle table de mortalité pour l'URSS (1984-1985)," "Population", 42e Année, No. 6 (Nov.): 843-862.] While not unique to the USSR (Hungary in particular showed a pattern that was similar to Russia), this male mortality increase, accompanied by a noticeable increase in infant mortality rates in the early 1970s, drew the attention of Western demographers and Sovietologists at the time. [For a summary of the mortality trends and the literature concerning them, see Barbara A. Anderson and Brian D. Silver. 1990. "Trends in Mortality of the Soviet Population," "Soviet Economy" 6, No. 3: 191-251.]

An analysis of the official data from the late 1980s showed that after worsening in the late 1970s and the early 1980s, the situation for adult mortality began to improve again. [Michael Ryan, "Life expectancy and mortality data from the Soviet Union," "British Medical Journal," Vol. 296, No. 6635 (May 28, 1988): 1,513-1515.] Referring to data for the two decades ending in 1989-1990, while noting some abatement in adult mortality rates in the Soviet republics in the 1980’s, Ward Kingkade and Eduardo Arriaga characterized this situation as follows: "All of the former Soviet countries have followed the universal tendency for mortality to decline as infectious diseases are brought under control while death rates from degenerative diseases rise. What is exceptional in the former Soviet countries and some of their East European neighbors is that a subsequent increase in mortality from causes other than infectious disease has brought about overall rises in mortality from all causes combined. Another distinctive characteristic of the former Soviet case is the presence of unusually high levels of mortality from accidents and other external causes, which are typically associated with alcoholism." [W. Ward Kingkade and Eduardo E. Arriaga, “Mortality in the New Independent States: Patterns and Impacts,” in José Luis Bobadilla, Christine A. Costello, and Faith Mitchell, Eds., "Premature Death in the New Independent States" (Washington, D.C., National Academy Press 1997), 156-183, citation at p. 157.]

The rising infant mortality rates in the USSR in the 1970s became the subject of much discussion and debate among Western demographers. The infant mortality rate (IMR) had increased from 24.7 in 1970 to 27.9 in 1974. Some researchers regarded the rise in infant mortality as largely real, a consequence of worsening health conditions and services. [Most notably, see Christopher Davis and Murray Feshbach. 1980. "Rising Infant Mortality in the USSR in the 1970s," U.S. Bureau of the Census, International Population Reports, Series P-95, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office. The following article, which ostensibly reviewed the Davis and Feshbach report, brought widespread attention to the issue of health care in the USSR: Nick Eberstadt, "The Health Crisis in the USSR," "New York Review of Books" 28, No. 2 (February 19, 1981).] Others regarded it as largely an artifact of improved reporting of infant deaths, and found the increases to be concentrated in the Central Asian republics where improvement in coverage and reporting of births and deaths might well have the greatest effect on increasing the published rates. [Most notably, see Barbara A. Anderson and Brian D. Silver. 1986. "Infant Mortality in the Soviet Union: Regional Differences and Measurement Issues," "Population and Development Review" 12, No. 4: 705-737.]

The rising reported adult mortality and infant mortality was not explained or defended by Soviet officials at the time. Instead, they simply stopped publishing all mortality statistics for ten years. Soviet demographers and health specialists remained silent about the mortality increases until the late 1980s when the publication of mortality data resumed and researchers could delve into the real and artifactual aspects of the reported mortality increases. When these researchers began to report their findings, they accepted the increases in adult male mortality as real and focused their research on explaining its causes and finding solutions. [See, for example, Juris Krumins. 1990. "The Changing Mortality Patterns in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia: Experience of the Past Three Decades," Paper presented at the International Conference on Health, Morbidity and Mortality by Cause of Death in Europe. December 3-7. Vilnius; A. G. Vishnevskiy, V.M. Shkolnikov, and S.A. Vasin. 1990. "Epidemiological Transition in the USSR as Mirrored by Regional Disparities," Paper presented at the International Conference on Health, Morbidity and Mortality by Cause of Death in Europe. December 3-7. Vilnius; and F. Meslé, V. Shkolnikov, and J. Vallin. 1991. "Mortality by Cause in the USSR in 1970-1987: The Reconstruction of Time Series," Paper presented at the European Population Conference, October 21-25, Paris.] In contrast, investigations of the rise in reported infant mortality concluded that while the reported increases in the IMR were largely an artifact of improved reporting of infant deaths in the Central Asian republics, the actual levels in this region were much higher than had yet been reported officially. [See, for example, A. A. Baranov, V. Y. Al‘bitskiy, and Y. M. Komarov. 1990. "Тенденции младенческой смертности в СССР в 70-80е годы [Trends in infant mortality in the USSR in the 70's and 80's] ," Советское здравоохранение, 3: 3-37; and Y. M. Andreyev and N. Y. Ksenofontova. 1991. "Оценка достоверности данных о младенческой смертности“ [Assessment of the reliability of data on infant mortality] , Вестник статистики, 8: 21-28.] In this sense the reported "rise" in infant mortality in the USSR as a whole was an artifact of improved statistical reporting, but reflected the reality of a much higher actual infant mortality "level" than had previously been recognized in official statistics.

As the detailed data series that was ultimately published in the late 1980s showed, the reported IMR for the USSR as a whole increased from 24.7 in 1970 to a peak of 31.4 in 1976. After that the IMR gradually decreased and by 1989 it had fallen to 22.7, which was lower than had been reported in any previous year (though close to the figure of 22.9 in 1971). [Comecon Secretariat, Статистический ежегодник стран-членов Совета экономической взаимопомощи, 1990 [Yearbook of the Member-Countries of Comecon] (Moscow: Finansy i statistika, 1990), and Goskomstat SSSR, Демографический ежегодник СССР 1990 [Demographic Yearbook of the USSR] (Moscow: Finansy i statistika, 1990).] In 1989, the IMR ranged from a low of 11.1 in the Latvian SSR to a high of 54.7 in the Turkmen SSR. [See Демографический ежегодник СССР 1990, at p. 382.]


General sources

# CIA World Factbook 1991 - most figures, unless attributed to another source.
# "J. A. Newth: The 1970 Soviet Census, Soviet Studies vol. 24, issue 2 (October 1972) pp. 200-222." - Population figures from 1897 - 1970.
# "The Russian State Archive of the Economy: Soviet Censuses of 1937 and 1939" - Population figures for 1937 and 1939.

ee also

* Demographics of Russia
* Religion in the Soviet Union
* Family in the Soviet Union

External links

* Some photos of the Soviet Union: [] , []

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