Something unprecedented is happening to ethnic Russians in many post-Soviet states, Vladimir Kozlov of Moscow’s Higher School of Economics says. As a result of intermarriage with members of the titular nationalities, ethnic Russians are watching as their children assimilate to the non-Russian nations.
That is just one of the conclusions he draws on the basis of a study of the ethnic Russian diasporas in Estonia, Latvia, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan where the numbers of ethnic Russians are also falling because of outmigration and a larger number of deaths than births [“Demographic Behavior of the Russian Diasporas in the Baltic Countries and Central Asia” (in Russian), Vestnik Instituta ekonomiki rossiiskoy akademii nauk, 3(2018): 50-60, at publications.hse.ru as summarized at q.hse.ru.]
In three of these four countries – Kyrgyzstan is the exception with only six percent – Russians form from a fifth to a quarter of the entire population, Kozlov says. “However, this share is constantly falling,” as a result first and foremost of outmigration and a greater number of deaths than births among an aging population.
“Assimilation,” he continues, is “a less significant factor” but it exists and works in the following way: “In inter-ethnic marriages, the children can choose the titular nationality” rather than Russian. This is characteristic both for the Baltics – in Latvia there are many mixed families – and in Kazakhstan.”
“Young people also may with time change their national self-identification in favor of the basic one in the republic. But this has been typical more often in other countries, including Moldova, Belarus, and Ukraine.” Ethnic Russians are not only decreasing in number but becoming significantly older than members of the titular nationality, pushing down birthrates still further and increasing death rates among the Russians.
The major cities of these countries, which used to be dominated by ethnic Russians no longer are. Instead, the exit of ethnic Russians and the influx of non-Russians from rural areas is changing them almost overnight from bastions of Russian culture into centers of non-Russian life and identity, Kozlov says.
He notes that in all the republics, the number of births per woman per lifetime among Russians is lower than among those in the titular nationality, and mortality among adult [Russians] is higher” than among adult members of the titular peoples. Ethnic Russians have fewer children in these countries than do members of the titular nationalities.
The titular nations also have greater life expectancies than do the ethnic Russians living among them, with a slight advantage in Kazakhstan and a much larger one in Estonia. Kozlov says that demographers are unanimous that this reflects far greater consumption of alcohol by Russians than by members of the titular nationalities.
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