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Why the population is declining in the economically prosperous Sverdlovsk region

In contrast to the steadily emptying of the Far East and the dynamically growing South of Russia, the situation in the Sverdlovsk region looks at first glance as relatively even. Nevertheless, here, in the Middle Urals, as in a drop of water, the main painful problems with demography, which are typical for the whole country as a whole, are reflected.

Despite the harsh climate, people appeared in these places a very long time ago. Archaeologists find multiple sites of ancient man, which indicate that the first settlements arose here in the Paleolithic era, as well as the Iron Age.

After the start of the active industrial development of the Urals, begun by Peter the Great, masses of people poured into the region, new enterprises and mines appeared, cities and towns were built. In 1723, the city of Yekaterinburg was founded, which later became the capital of the Urals. In 1780 and 1796, two provinces were formed – Tobolsk and Perm, and six counties were allocated. However, as a separate administrative unit, the Sverdlovsk region was formed only in 1934, after its separation from the Ural region.

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A powerful impetus for the development of the territory was the industrialization of the 30s and the Great Patriotic War. It was here that more than 200 enterprises from the European part of the country were evacuated, which then turned into the main forge of the Victory. Along with machine tools, tens of thousands of highly qualified specialists, scientists, and designers arrived in the region.

Sverdlovsk of that time was turning before our eyes into a major industrial center, where a well-educated and highly skilled population lived. Not only Sverdlovsk, but also numerous industrial cities of the region developed. Rapid urbanization also affected the social structure of the region: the population of cities was constantly increasing, while the proportion of rural residents was decreasing. Today city dwellers make up 85% of the region’s population. And this has seriously affected the demographics of the region.

If you trace it over the years, then the rapid growth of the region’s population slowed down around 1959 – then a little more than four million people lived in the region. By 1970, more than 4 million 300 thousand people already live here. The maximum number of inhabitants of the Sverdlovsk region was recorded between 1979 and 1994. It is noteworthy that the restructuring of the late 80s and the beginning of the dashing nineties did not greatly affect the population. At the very least, the Urals managed to maintain its industrial potential and avoid the mass exodus of its inhabitants to other regions. However, since the mid-nineties, the number of inhabitants of the region begins to gradually decrease.

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The minimum number of inhabitants was recorded in 2011 – then 4,297,227 people lived in the region. Then there were several relatively prosperous years, when there was a slight increase in population in the region. Unfortunately, this trend was interrupted by the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020, the Sverdlovsk region recorded a decline in the birth rate and a sharp surge in mortality. The natural population decline has doubled. In comparison with other regions of the Ural Federal District, the Sverdlovsk region is now in first place in terms of the number of deaths and population decline.

It was the decline in the birth rate that became the main demographic scourge of the region. If in 1970 there were 14.5 babies born per 1,000 people in the region, then in 2020 – a little more than thirteen. For comparison: in 1979, almost 17 babies were born per thousand people.

As for the mortality rate in the region, in 1970 it was 8.4 per 1,000 people. In Covid 2020, this figure almost doubled. By the way, most of all the region died out between 2000 and 2004. There were 17.3 deaths per 1,000 people in 2003, with 10.4 newborns.

In total, as of January 1, 2021, 4 million 292 thousand people lived in the Sverdlovsk region. A year before, the number of inhabitants was 4 million 311 thousand people, that is, in 12 months the population decreased by almost 20 thousand.

According to the forecast of Rosstat, by the beginning of 2031 the population of the region will be 4337.5 thousand people, i.e. stabilization is expected at least at the current level. But this stabilization is possible only if those who come to the region can compensate for the natural decline in the population, which, according to the forecast, will increase annually – from 4.9 thousand people in 2015 to 15.4 thousand people in 2030.

How has the national composition of Russia changed over the past decades, and what did it lead to?

The demographic problems of the region are growing, among other things, due to the declining interest among young people in the institution of marriage. Here are just a few characteristic figures: in 1955, there were 12.4 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants of the region, in 1980 – 10.6 marriages, and in 2018 – 6.4 marriages. The divorce rate in the same 1955 was 0.9 per thousand, and in 2018 – 4.4 per thousand. That is, out of 6.4 marriages, more than half break up. In 2020, the situation in this area has not changed.

How are labor resources replenished in an industrialized region? Yes, the same as in all of Russia – the flow of migrants. Moreover, two waves of migration are recorded in the region – internal and external. Internal – this is when residents of languishing villages and towns seek to move to cities, where there are plenty of jobs and a completely different standard of living. For example, in 2019-2020, the number of urban residents in the region increased by about 4,600 people, while over 5,000 people left the villages.

The basis of external migration is people from the CIS countries and other regions of the Russian Federation. Residents of Belarus, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and even China come here. However, this flow has weakened after covid. Local entrepreneurs already note that there is a shortage of labor in the areas of construction, repair, and agriculture.

In other words, the forecast for improving the demographic situation and population growth in the Sverdlovsk region is not very favorable. And this despite the fact that the region remains economically attractive and dynamically developing. But it was the industrial development of the region that had a negative impact on its demography: at all times in Russia, the countryside has been the main supplier of human resources. And when the balance between the urban and rural population is seriously disturbed (and this is what happens in the Sverdlovsk region), it is difficult to expect a stable increase in the number of inhabitants.

This problem is not going anywhere, and it is unlikely that it will be possible to solve it by simply importing migrants from neighboring countries. Perhaps it is time for the federal and local authorities to adopt a conceptual program for the new development of the Urals, while emphasizing the development of rural areas and stimulating the population to create large families. However, it is unlikely that this problem concerns only one Ural …

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