Jews in RUSSIA: A Century of demographic dynamics
ÆÓÐÍÀË "ÄÈÀÑÏÎÐÛ", ¹ 1, 1999ã.
Ä-ð Ìàðê Òîëüö, Èíñòèòóò ñîâðåìåííîãî åâðåéñòâà ïðè Èåðóñàëèìñêîì óíèâåðñèòåòå (Èçðàèëü).
Åâðåè Ðîññèè: Äåìîãðàôè÷åñêàÿ äèíàìèêà çà ñòîëåòèå
Â ñòàòüå äàíû îöåíêè ÷èñëåííîñòè åâðåéñêîãî íàñåëåíèÿ íà ñîâðåìåííîé òåððèòîðèè Ðîññèéñêîé Ôåäåðàöèè çà 1897-1998 ãã. Îòìå÷åíà ðîëü èììèãðàöèè â äèíàìèêå ÷èñëåííîñòè ýòíîñà, îñîáåííî â ïåðâîé ïîëîâèíå ÕÕ â. Ïîêàçàíî, ÷òî åâðåè áûëè àâàíãàðäíîé ãðóïïîé â èñòîðèè äåìîãðàôè÷åñêîãî ïåðåõîäà â Ðîññèè è èõ óðîâåíü ðîæäàåìîñòè â òå÷åíèè áîëüøåé ÷àñòè ñòîëåòèÿ áûë íèçêèì. Ýòî ÿâèëîñü îñíîâíîé ïðè÷èíîé ñîêðàùåíèÿ ÷èñëåííîñòè ýòíîñà äî êîíöà 1980-õ ãã., ÷òî óñòàíîâëåíî ñ èñïîëüçîâàíèåì ðàçëè÷íûõ äåìîãðàôè÷åñêèõ áàëàíñîâ. Ïîêàçàíû ìàñøòàáû ìàññîâîé ýìèãðàöèè 1990-õ ãã., åå ðîëü â óñêîðåíèè ñíèæåíèÿ ÷èñëåííîñòè åâðååâ. Îñîáîå âíèìàíèå óäåëåíî ïîëîâîìó äèñáàëàíñó â áðàêîñïîñîáíûõ âîçðàñòàõ (÷èñëåííîìó ïðåîáëàäàíèþ ìóæ÷èí) êàê äåìîãðàôè÷åñêîìó ôàêòîðó, ñïîñîáñòâîâàâøåìó ðàñïðîñòðàíåíèþ ýòíè÷åñêè ñìåøàííûõ áðàêîâ. Ïðèâåäåíû äàííûå î ðîñòå äîëè äåòåé, ðîæäåííûõ â ýòèõ áðàêàõ. Ðàññìîòðåíà äèíàìèêà "ðàñøèðåííîãî" åâðåéñêîãî íàñåëåíèÿ – îáùåãî ÷èñëà åâðååâ è ÷ëåíîâ èõ ñåìåé (äîìîõîçÿéñòâ).
The population of the Russian Federation in the 1990s has reached the
stage of steady decrease. However, already for a long time the Jews in
Russia have demonstrated rapid population decline, and study of this decline
and its components can shed more light on demographic history and the prospect
of demographic development in the country.
The Jews are a unique ethnic group. Most of them in today's Russian
Federation originate from the former Tsarist Pale of Jewish Settlement
(Belorussia and Ukraine) and either they themselves or their immediate
forebears migrated to Russia proper during the First World War, in the
1920s and early 1930s, or as recently as the Second World War and after.
They are mostly Ashkenazic Jews whose traditional language was Yiddish,
which for the great majority has been replaced by Russian as a native language
The Jews are the most highly educated population group in the Russian
Federation, and the level of education of these Jews is similar to that
of Jews in the United States (see Altshuler, 1987, Ch. 5; Tolts, 1997b,
pp. 164–168). The occupational profile of this group is very different
from the majority of population in the country, the main professional activities
of Jews in Russia being science, education, health, culture and art, as
well as engineering positions in industry, construction and transportation;
business has become prominent in the post-Soviet period. (Ryvkina, 1996;
Sacks, 1998). As a consequence, the social status and living standards
of the Jews are higher than average.
To understand the long-time population decline of Jews in Russia, the
number of this group during the last century should be examined. We shall
analyze the dynamics of Jewish marriage, fertility and mortality, as well
as the balance of births and deaths. The role of the latter should be compared
with the influence of migration. Special attention will be paid to the
post-war period as a whole, and particularly the period following the start
of the recent Jewish exodus from the former Soviet Union (FSU) in 1989.
The “Core” Jewish Population
By the end of the 19th century in the contemporary territory of
the Russian Federation the number of Jews, based on the data of the general
first Russian census of 1897 on religion, could be estimated at about 250,000
(0.4 percent of the total population). Of this number only approximately
75,000 Jews were living in the small part of the Tsarist Pale of Jewish
Settlement (some parts of Chernigov, Mogilev and Vitebsk guberniyas) which
is now within the territory of the Russian Federation. Most of the Jews
lived outside the Pale, but at this date the numbers of Jews in the two
major Russian cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg were very low: about
8,000 and 17,000, respectively.
For the Soviet period we have direct data on ethnicity, and these figures
show the fast growth of the Jewish population in the 1920s and 1930s which
was caused largely by migration from the former Pale (Ukraine and Belorussia).
According to the 1926 census, the number of Jews in Russia within contemporary
borders was 539,000 (0.6 percent), of whom 40 percent were in Moscow (131,000)
and Leningrad (the Soviet name of St. Petersburg — 84,000). By 1939 in
the Russian Federation (not including Crimea), the number of Jews recorded
in the census data reached its maximum: 891,000 (0.8 percent); about 50
percent of the entire Jewish population resided in Moscow (250,000) and
Soviet census numbers on ethnicity depend entirely on self-declaration
of the census respondents. Conceptually, this corresponds to what has been
defined as the “core” Jewish population (DellaPergola, 1993, p. 277). The
“core” Jewish population is the aggregate of all those who, when asked,
identified themselves as Jews, or in the case of children, were identified
as such by their parents; it does not include persons of Jewish origin
who reported another ethnic nationality in the census. The alternative
definition, of the “enlarged” Jewish population, includes Jews as well
as their non-Jewish household members, and this group may be significantly
larger than the "core" Jewish population (see below).
During the Second World War in 1941–1942 the Wehrmacht occupied territories
of the Russian Federation in which 16 percent of Russia's Jews lived according
to the 1939 census (not including Crimea; computed from Altshuler, 1998,
pp. 16, 221). The main centers of Jewish concentration (Moscow and Leningrad)
were not occupied, but the war losses of the Jewish population, as well
as of the total population of Russia were very large. However, for the
Jewish population in Russia these losses were nearly compensated by war-time
immigration of Jews from German occupied territories (mainly Ukraine),
in combination with post-war immigration from this republic, although the
pre-war population size has never been restored.
According to the data of the first post-war census of 1959 the number
of Jews in Russia was 880,000 (0.7 percent), including “Tats”*1; in Moscow
the number had decreased to 239,000, and in Leningrad the drop was even
more pronounced — to 169,000.
* In the post-war period, in Soviet censuses a growing number of Jews in
the North Caucasus were counted as “Tats”. This is misleading since the
“Tats” are actually Mountain Jews. By labeling them in this way, the Soviet
authorities sought to separate these Jews from the rest of the Jewish people
(see Altshuler, 1990, pp. 129—132; Zand, 1991, pp. 424—426). Recently,
however, they have emigrated to Israel in large numbers as Jews under the
Law of Return. All our estimates of the total number of Jews in Russia
for the post-war period include those Mountain Jews who were listed as
Between 1959 and 1989 Russia's Jews consistently made up about 39
percent of the Jewish population in the whole of the Soviet Union. The
rate of decrease of Jews in Russia (35 percent), was the same as in the
entire Soviet Union, and according to the last official Soviet census of
1989, the Jewish population of Russia at the start of the recent great
exodus was about 570,000 (0.4 percent). The number of Jews in the two major
cities of Russia further decreased: to 176,000 in Moscow and 107,000 in
Before the 1970s, almost the entire decrease in the number of Jews in
Russia was caused by internal processes: the balance of births and deaths,
and assimilation. Between 1970 and 1989 approximately 51,000 Jews and their
non-Jewish family members from Russia left the USSR (Florsheim, 1990, p.
320). Nevertheless, the main cause of Jewish population decline in this
period was the negative balance of births and deaths, and only about 20
percent of the decrease was due to emigration (Tolts, 1993, p. 101). In
this period, as well as previously, Russia's Jewish migratory balance with
Ukraine was decisively positive (see Tolts, 1997a, pp. 148—149). This compensated
to some extent for the losses caused by emigration from Russia to outside
the Soviet Union.
Since 1989, the situation has changed due to the great exodus of Jews
from the FSU, and a new stage has begun. According to official Russian
data, from 1989 to 1997 alone more than 160,000 Jews emigrated from the
Russian Federation to outside the FSU. However, it was estimated that even
in 1989-1993, which included the period of the highest emigration (1990-1991),
38 percent of the total decrease was caused by the negative balance of
births and deaths (Tolts, 1996b, p. 10).
By the beginning of 1998 the number of Jews in Russia had decreased
to approximately 325,000 (0.2 percent of the total population). During
the first nine years of the great exodus, the Jewish population fell by
43 percent in Russia (that is, not much more than between 1959 and 1989,
when the rate of decrease in the republic, as noted above, was 35 percent).
On the basis of the 1994 microcensus, one can estimate the numbers of
Jews in the two largest Russian cities: about 135,000 in Moscow and 61,000
in St. Petersburg; the declines from the 1989 census were 23 and 43 percent,
respectively. During the recent great exodus Jewish emigration was higher
from St. Petersburg than from Moscow and the provinces (outside Moscow
and St. Petersburg) as a whole (see Tolts, 1998).
At the start of the great exodus, Russia's Jews made up 39 percent
of the total number of Jews in the FSU. However, between 1989 and 1998
the population decline of Russia's Jewry was only one-fourth of the total
Jewish population decline in the FSU. As a result, by the beginning of
1998 Russia's Jews accounted for about 60 percent of the total number of
Jews in the FSU.
Today, Russia differs from parts of the FSU in that it has retained
more than half of its pre-1989 Jewish population. Ex-Soviet Jewry remaining
in the FSU is concentrated more and more in Russia. Thus, by place of residence
it is rapidly turning into Russian Jewry.
Jews in Russian Marriage Market
In the demographic study of an ethnic minority, the question of
the existence of potential marriage partners within the group is of great
significance. An examination of the ratio of females to males at relevant
ages shows the limited and narrowing possibilities for Jewish males in
Russia to select a suitable marriage partner from their own ethnic group.
According to the 1939 census, before the Second World War as a result
of different propensities to migrate into Russia, the number of Jewish
males aged 20–24 greatly exceeded the corresponding number of females (see
Altshuler, 1998, pp. 236, 258), while there was an evident excess of females
in the marriage market within the total population of the Russian Federation,
as well as in the urban population as a whole *2.
*2 For the census data for different years on sex ratio by age for the
total and urban population of the Russian Federation, see: Goskomstat Rossii,
1998b, pp. 48–49.
The data of the first post-war census of 1959 show a prevalence of males
over the number of females among Jews in Russia in all age groups under
30. In this period, there was a shortage of males in the total urban population
in all marriageable ages. The data of the next censuses show progressively
narrowing possibilities for male Jews in Russia to select suitable marriage
candidates from their own ethnic group. In 1970 males outnumbered females
in all ages up to 45; in 1979 the number of Jewish males in Russia was
higher than that of Jewish females in all ages up to 50, and in 1989 even
up to 60.
Analysis reveals that the analogous unique sex structure in the total
Soviet Jewish population (according to the 1989 census, the male surplus
was up to 55) was a consequence of the small sex difference in mortality
(Tolts, 1992, pp. 4–5). In part, this dearth of potential Jewish brides
in Russia stems from the earlier migration of predominantly male Jews from
Ukraine to this republic (see above).
According to the 1994 microcensus, in Russia this shortage had advanced
to ages 60–65, but among all those under fifty at the time of the 1989
census, the sex ratio had even worsened during these five years. For example,
the ratio was 87:100 at ages 25–29 in the 1989 census, but had fallen to
80:100 for the same cohort at ages 30–34 in the 1994 microcensus. A plausible
explanation for this would be that in the period of the recent great exodus
more females than males emigrated.
A distinctive feature of the age structure of the Jewish population
of Russia in the post-war period is its “regressive” nature; that is, younger
generations tend to be consistently less numerous. In view of sex ratios
in adjacent age groups of the Jewish population, a male's chances of finding
a candidate for marriage within his ethnic community are further reduced.
For instance, in 1989 in Russia the number of Jewish females aged 25–29
was 13 less than needed to balance each 100 Jewish males of the same age
group, while for this same age group of males, the imbalance was much higher
when they were compared with the adjacent group of females aged 20–24 —
by almost two fifths (Tolts, 1993, p. 105).
Male Jews could not fully realize their marriage potential within the
framework of their ethnic group. However, census data on the currently
married show that Jewish males successfully realized their marriage potential
due to the “shortage” of males in the total urban population, but inevitably
the “excess” Jewish males married outside their ethnic group.
According to the data of the 1959 census, the proportion of Jewish males
currently married above age 25 was higher than it had been in 1939. Between
the two censuses, this indicator for Jewish females had fallen above age
40. This coincided with the unfavorable dynamics of sex ratios above age
40 for the females in the Jewish population of Russia during this period.
During the same period, in the Jewish population the proportion of currently
married males below age 25 fell. This may be seen as an indirect indicator
of rise of age at first marriage between the two censuses, for which we
have no direct data. The same dynamics show decrease of this proportion
for Jewish females at young ages.
Between the 1959 and 1970 censuses the proportion of currently married
at young ages for Jewish males and females rose, from which we may conclude
a decrease in age at first marriage. According to the 1979 census singulate
mean age at marriage was 25.0 years for Jewish males and 23.1 years for
Jewish females. During the next decade this indicator remained almost unchanged
in the Jewish population for males and decreased by 0.4 year for females:
according to the 1979 census it was 25.1 and 22.7 years, respectively (Tolts,
1992, p. 13).
According to the 1979 census, final celibacy (percentage never-married
for 45–49 age group) was as low as 2.8 percent for Jewish males; according
to the 1989 census, this indicator was 3.3 percent for Jewish males. For
Jewish females the same indicator was at medium level: 8.8 and 7.3 percent,
As a result of the above-noted sex imbalance, during the period under
analysis the total number of currently married Jewish males per 100 currently
married Jewish females decreased considerably: from 90 in 1939 to 81 in
1959 and 71 in 1989, and even to 66 in 1994.
Since the Second World War one of the outstanding features of Jews in
Russia has been the great increase in mixed marriage. This process had
actually begun already between the two world wars (see Altshuler, 1998,
p. 74). In 1988, the frequency of mixed marriages among all marriages involving
Jews was 73.2 percent for males and 62.8 percent for females (a relative
increase of 23 and 46 percent respectively, as compared to 1978). According
to my estimate, by 1994 the percentage mixed-married among all currently
married reached 63 percent for males and 44 percent for females.
The higher frequencies of mixed marriage among males reflect the already
mentioned peculiarities of Jewish population structure in Russia, namely
the “shortage” of females. A more balanced Jewish age-sex structure would
probably be associated with a more similar frequency of mixed marriage
*3 For the US see, e.g.: Goldstein, 1992.
In the post-war period rising intermarriage was accompanied by a
great increase in the proportion of children born to mixed couples. Corresponding
to Russia's high percentage of mixed marriages, the proportion of these
children among all children born to Jewish mothers was greater there than
in the other Slavic republics: 58 percent in 1988, or 2.1 times more than
three decades before. Following the start of the recent great exodus, the
proportion of children born to mixed couples among all children born to
Jewish mothers in 1997 reached 70 percent in Russia.
Soviet/Russian vital statistics give no data on the number of children
born to those couples with Jewish husbands and non-Jewish wives. However,
this information is very important to any analysis of the dynamics of the
“enlarged” Jewish population. As the number of these births cannot be lower
than the vital statistics figure for children born to Jewish mothers in
mixed couples, in order to obtain a minimal estimate, one may assume these
figures to be equal.
Approximately twice as many Jewish men were currently married to non-Jewish
women as were Jewish women to non-Jewish men (Tolts, 1996b, p. 15; Volkov,
1989, p. 18). Hence, the proportions of children born to mixed couples
as a whole of all newborn children with at least one Jewish parent in Russia
was about one half in the late 1950s, perhaps 80 percent in the late 1980s,
and even 87 percent in 1997.
The data on offspring of mixed couples collected before the start of
the great exodus show clear preference for non-Jewish ethnic affiliation
for the children (Volkov, 1989, p. 18). According to the most recent data
of the 1994 microcensus, non-Jewish ethnic affiliation was clearly preferable
among offspring of mixed couples. For children under 16, the percentage
declared Jewish was about the same regardless of the composition of the
mixed couples — only 11 percent. Among offspring aged 16 and above, the
percentage was even lower: 6.2 percent for couples consisting of a Jewish
husband and a Russian wife and 4.1 percent for couples consisting of a
Russian husband and a Jewish wife (Tolts, 1996b, p. 15).
However, during the entire period under consideration including the
pre-1989 emigration, mixed marriage and its consequences were not the main
reasons for the Jewish population decline in Russia.
Fertility transition generally starts in the urban population and
Jews have usually been in the vanguard. Both these facts are true throughout
the world, and for Russia in particular (see DellaPergola, 1992; Tolts,
The fertility of Jews in Russia has for a long time been too low to
ensure replacement. Total Jewish fertility in the Russian Federation has
not exceeded 1.6 children per woman in all the cohorts born since the beginning
of the 20th century. Moreover, since 1919, the birth cohorts of Jewish
women have had a very stable and low level of fertility — about 1.4 or
less. The low level of Jewish fertility in Russia is only partly caused
by a high frequency of permanent infertility. According to the 1979 census,
among the women of the oldest cohort (born before 1909) 19 percent had
had no births, and the percentage of childless women born in 1909–33 was
about 17 percent. According to the 1989 census, in the younger 1934–48
cohorts, 14–15 percent of the women never bore children. However, the marriage
pattern (age at first marriage and final celibacy; see above) was not the
main factor causing low Jewish fertility in Russia.
The main cause was low marital fertility. According to the 1979 census,
the average total number of births in the Russian Federation has not exceeded
1.8 children per married Jewish woman born in the first part of the 20th
century; and, fertility of married Jewish women born since 1919 was as
low as 1.6 or less.
Based on the different categories of births (to endogamous Jewish couples,
to Jewish mothers, and to at least one Jewish parent), one can reconstruct
the dynamics of birth decline among Jews in Russia. However, the figures
for each category relate to quantitatively different aspects of internal
processes among the Jews.
Births to endogamous Jewish couples form the basis (in Soviet conditions
in the Russian Federation, even about the only source) of reproduction
of the “core” Jewish population. Births to at least one Jewish parent by
definition of course include endogamous births, as well as births to Jewish
mothers with non-Jewish fathers and births to non-Jewish mothers with Jewish
fathers. This largest and most inclusive of the three figures gives Jewish
fertility as a whole, and in doing so, allows analysis of the dynamics
of the “enlarged” Jewish population. Only births to Jewish mothers are
considered Jewish according to Jewish religious law (“Halakha”), but this
category of births had very little specific relevance to secular Soviet
By 1926 the crude birth rate to Jewish mothers in the European part
of the Russian Federation had fallen to 19.6 per 1,000 Jews (Binshtok and
Novoselskii, 1929, p. 75). By 1936, according to partial data, this rate
was as low as 15.8 per 1,000 Jews (KEE, 1996, Vol. 8, col. 295). That is,
the Jewish population of the Russian Federation had, before the Second
World War, reached an advanced stage of fertility transition.
In the post-war period, all the birth categories showed dramatic decline,
but this was greatest among the numbers of children born to endogamous
Jewish couples, and smallest among those children born to at least one
Jewish parent. During the three decades from 1958 to 1988, the number of
births to endogamous Jewish couples fell by a factor of 4.1, and the number
of children born to Jewish mothers fell by a factor of 2.4. During this
same period, the total number of births to at least one Jewish parent fell
by a factor of 1.7.
The vital crisis of Jews in Russia has been intensifying rapidly due,
inter alia, to the great exodus. In the short period between 1988 and 1993
in the Russian Federation, the decline was more pronounced, by a factor
of 4.3, 3.3 and 3.0, respectively. However, emigration and its consequences
were not the main cause of this dramatic decline.
We arrive at this surprising conclusion by estimating the expected number
of births in 1993–1994, assuming that the age composition and absolute
number of Jewish women remained as it was in 1989. In 1988–1989, the number
of births to Jewish mothers was 6,895; by 1993–1994, the number had declined
by 4,662. According to our estimate, even if the age composition had not
changed, the decrease in the number of births should have been 3,158. Thus,
68 percent of the recorded decrease cannot be attributed to the change
of age composition which was a consequence of mass emigration.
We must seek another cause. In 1988–1989 the total fertility rate of
Russia's Jewish population was 1.492 (Barkalov and Darsky, 1994, p. 9).
For 1993–1994 the fertility indicator was estimated at about 0.8; that
is, it fell dramatically by 46 percent (Tolts, 1996b, p.12). This coincides
with the general negative dynamics of fertility in Russia during this period
(see, for example: Andreev et al., 1998; Zakharov and Ivanova, 1996). Between
1988 and 1994, however, the fertility indicator for the total urban population
fell by only 34 percent, from 1.9 to 1.25. And in 1994, even in the two
major cities of Russia — Moscow and St. Petersburg — the total fertility
rate was higher than that of the Jewish population: 1.1 and 1.0, respectively
(Goskomstat Rossii, 1995, pp. 80–81)
One special aspect of the interrelationship between emigration and
Jewish fertility in Russia should perhaps be noted here. According to Israeli
statistics, the level of fertility among immigrants (olim) from the FSU
was rather high during their first year in the country (Israel. CBS, 1998a,
p. 79): some Jewish women obviously preferred giving birth in Israel.
As a result, in almost four decades between 1958 to 1997, the total
number of births to endogamous Jewish couples fell by a factor of 24. During
this same period the number of children born to Jewish mothers fell by
a factor of 10, and the total number of births to at least one Jewish parent
fell by a factor of 6. In 1997 in the Russian Federation the total recorded
number of births to Jewish mothers was 905, with only 272 of these children
having Jewish fathers. For that year the total number of births to at least
one Jewish parent can be estimated at about 2,200, if we assume the number
of children born to non-Jewish mothers and Jewish fathers to be twice that
born to Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers.
Vital Balances and Aging
For the pre-war period we have data only on the balance of births to
Jewish mothers and Jewish deaths. In 1926 in the European part of the Russian
Federation the number of births to Jewish mothers exceeded that of Jewish
deaths by 11.1 per 1,000 Jews. In 1936 according to partial data, this
balance was 7.1 per 1,000 Jews (KEE, 1996, Vol. 8, col. 295).
The data indicate that an unfavorable balance of births to endogamous
Jewish couples and Jewish deaths first occurred in Russia before 1958 (the
first year for which we have post-war vital data). The negative balance
of births to Jewish mothers and Jewish deaths in the Russian Federation
was first registered in 1959. At the same time, also still before the emigration
of the 1970s, in 1968 the balance of births to at least one Jewish parent
and Jewish deaths reached zero, after which it became negative in Russia.
In 1988–1989 the number of Jewish deaths exceeded that of births to
Jewish mothers by 18.1 per 1000 Jews. The rise in mixed marriage led to
a further decline in endogamous birth rates as compared with crude birth
rates of Jewish mothers. Over the three decades between 1958-1959 to 1988-1989,
the endogamous birth rate declined by 65 percent, while the crude birth
rate of Jewish mothers declined by only 38 percent.
On the other hand, also due to the rise in mixed marriage, the decrease
in crude birth rates to at least one Jewish parent was rather moderate.
Over the same time span (1958–1959 to 1988-1989) this indicator fell only
from 15.6 to 13.6 per 1,000 Jews (13 percent) in Russia.
Finally, the "effectively Jewish" birth rate, that is, the total number
of newborns identified as Jewish per 1,000 Jews, must be considered in
particular, for this directly determines the dynamics of the "core" Jewish
population (Schmelz, 1981). This indicator includes some newborns of mixed
origin who will grow up as Jews. A comparison of vital statistics and census
data shows that in Russia roughly 20 percent of children born to mixed
couples in 1988 were reported as Jews in the 1989 census (Tolts, 1997b,
For 1989 the "effectively Jewish" birth rate corresponding to these
figures has been estimated at about 5 per 1,000 Jews in Russia. On the
eve of the recent great exodus the balance of these births and Jewish deaths
was decidedly negative: –19 per 1,000 Jews in Russia. The 1959 census data
show that the “effectively Jewish” birth rate was as high as about 8 per
1,000 Jews in Russia. In this period the balance of these births and Jewish
deaths was negative in Russia.
After the start of the great exodus, the vital balance of Russia's Jewry
worsened. From 1988–1989 to 1993–1994 the number of births to Jewish mothers
dropped by more than half, from 6.3 to 2.8 per 1,000 Jews. During the same
period the number of Jewish deaths rose by 23 percent from 24.4 to 30.
Thus, the negative balance of births and deaths increased by one half and
reached more than 27 per 1,000 Jews. In 1958–1959 the number of deaths
was only 10.2 per 1,000 Jews.
Actually the most acute demographic problem in contemporary Russia in
general is mortality; the total Russian population has the lowest life
expectancy for males among all the developed countries. Between 1988 and
1994, the life expectancy of males in the total Russian urban population
fell by 7.5 years.
However, the data clearly show that the vital crisis of Jews in Russia
is not linked to mortality and longevity levels. For 1993–1994 the life
expectancy of Russia's male Jews has been estimated at 69.6, which is about
the same level as at the end of the 1980s (Tolts, 1996, p. 12). Given
the demographic situation of contemporary Russia, the life expectancy of
Jewish males is relatively very good.
In 1994 male life expectancy among the total urban population was only
57.9; the difference between the life expectancy of these males and Jewish
males rose dramatically to about 12 years. From these figures we see that
the Jewish population has adapted to the recent economic transition in
Russia better than the rest of the population (on this problem, for the
total Russian population see, e.g.: Heleniak, 1995, pp. 451–453).
Nor were the dynamics of Jewish life expectancy lowered by the selective
character of mass emigration as one might have supposed. Although unwell
people usually have less tendency to migrate, and this would have been
expected to raise Jewish mortality somewhat, this factor was offset by
successful Jewish socioeconomic adaptation.
At the same time, a comparison of Jewish life expectancy in Russia and
in Israel shows a large differentiation between them. In the mid-1990s
this differentiation for both males and females was more than 6 years.
However, during this period in Israel, standardized rates of female mortality
were lower for the new immigrants from the former USSR as a whole than
for the total Jewish population of Israel, while the indicators for males
of both groups were rather close (Israel. CBS, 1998a, p. 20).
The level of crude death rates of course depends heavily on the age
structure. Given the condition of stable longevity, the older a population,
the higher this indicator will be. Before the Second World War Russia's
Jewish population was rather young. According to the 1939 census, the median
age of Jews in Russia was 30.5, and only 4.6 percent of them were aged
65 and over Altshuler, 1998, p. 236).
In the post-war period till the start of the great exodus Russia's Jewish
population aged substantially, a factor which is linked mainly to the decline
in fertility. According to data from the 1989 census, among the Jews in
Russia, the population aged 65 and over reached 26.9 percent of the total,
or three times more than in 1959 (8.9 percent for Ashkenazic Jews). During
the same period, the median age of Russia's Jews rose from 41.2 to 52.3
The recent great exodus has accelerated this process. According to data
from the 1994 microcensus, 32.4 per cent of the Ashkenazic Jews in Russia
were aged 65 and above. At the same time the median age of these Jews reached
56.0, which was 3.7 years more than for all Jews in 1989. In the entire
previous decennial period between the 1979 and 1989 censuses this indicator
for all Russia's Jews rose by only 3.1 years.
The influence of aging on the negative balance of births to Jewish
mothers and Jewish deaths (negative natural increase) can be estimated*4.
Of the decomposition (breakdown) seen from the 1988-1989 data, 81 percent
of the negative natural increase of the Jewish population in Russia was
attributable to the age structure and only 19 percent to fertility.
*4 On the method used see: S. Preston, 1970, p. 419.
By 1993-1994, due to the dramatic decline of the fertility level, a
somewhat lower percent of the negative balance of births and deaths was
attributable to the age structure and a higher percent to fertility: 75
and 25 percent, respectively. However, aging is still without doubt the
leading cause of contemporary Russia's Jewish demographic collapse.
Dynamics of the “Enlarged” Jewish Population
Rising intermarriage has caused an increase in the percentage of
Jews living in ethnically heterogeneous households which are part of the
“enlarged” Jewish population*5. According to our estimates, in Russia between
1979 and 1989, the total number of family households with at least one
“core” Jew fell by about 11–13 percent (Tolts, 1993, p. 108). During the
same period, the decline in the number of Jewish uninational family households
reached 30 percent. Correspondingly, between 1979 and 1989, the proportion
of Jews living in ethnically heterogeneous households among all Russian
Jews living in family households rose from 39 to 49 percent.
*5 The “enlarged” Jewish population includes all persons living in households
with at least one “core” Jew, see: DellaPergola, 1993, p. 277.
Theoretically, stagnation or decline of a “core” Jewish population
could occur concomitantly with the growth of the respective “enlarged”
Jewish population, as has been shown by American Jewry (Goldstein, 1992,
By the late 1970s the “enlarged” Jewish population in Russia could
be estimated at 1,083,000 (or even about 1,100,000, including “Tats”).
According to our estimates based on the dynamics of family households,
during the 1980s not only the “core” but also the “enlarged” Jewish population
decreased. One may assume that the start of this stage of decline began
in the 1970s in Russia, when a significant negative balance of births to
at least one Jewish parent and Jewish deaths appeared in the republic (see
On the basis of the 1989 census and the 1994 microcensus, one may arrive
at comparable estimates of the “enlarged” Jewish population in Russia.
According to our estimates, this population was 910,000 at the start of
the great exodus, and 720,000 five years later. This indicates a decrease
of 21 percent in the first five years of the great exodus.
Thus, the “enlarged” Jewish population declined less than the “core”
population did. In fact, the decline in the number of non-Jewish members
of heterogeneous households was very moderate. According to our estimate,
the ratio of “enlarged” to “core” Jewish population was 1.6 to 1 for the
late 1980s, and 1.8 to 1 for 1994*6.
*6 According to the estimate based on the same microcensus which included
in the “enlarged” Jewish population those children of mixed couples who
had not identified themselves as Jews and who were living separately from
a Jewish parent, the ratio between the “enlarged” and “core” Jewish populations
was 1.93 to 1 (Andreev, 1997, p. 7).
Interestingly enough, the estimated share of the “core” within the “enlarged”
Jewish population in 1994 — 55 percent — is very close to the percentage
of Jews among all emigrants from Russia to Israel in the same year — 58
percent. In 1995 the second indicator dropped to 53 percent*7. The similarity
in figures, however, should not be seen as a sign of equal propensities
to aliyah for homogenous and mixed Jewish families.
*7 From the Russian official statistics based on the nationality (ethnicity)
recorded in the internal passports of emigrants, this indicator was as
low as 36 percent in 1997 (Goskomstat Rossii, 1998a, p. 86). However, according
to Jewish religious law (“Halakha”), of course, the proportion of Jews
among the olim should be much higher (see DellaPergola, 1998, pp. 85-87).
In the official Israeli data, which are based on this approach, the percentage
of Jews among immigrants to Israel from the Russian Federation in 1997
was 60 percent (Vesti [Tel Aviv], September 27, 1998, p. 1).
Migratory movements are more frequent at younger ages. Among Russian
Jews, the younger the population, the higher the percentage of intermarriage
and offspring of mixed couples. Aggregate aliyah data are heavily dependent
on the age structure of the “enlarged” Jewish population, and such data
can not show propensity to aliyah for homogenous and mixed Jewish families.
These figures clearly show that processes involved with any explanation
of the dynamics of the “enlarged” Jewish population are complicated.
For a conservative estimate of the “enlarged” Jewish population of Russia
for 1998, we used the ratio of “enlarged” to “core” Jewish population,
as for 1994. Accordingly, the estimated number was about 585,000. This
figure includes “core” Jews and only those close relatives who are living
with them. At the same date, the “enlarged” Jewish population which includes
children of mixed couples who did not identify themselves as Jewish and
who were living apart from their Jewish parent, was more than 600,000.
The total number of people eligible to emigrate from Russia to Israel according
to the Israeli Law of Return which includes Jews, their children and grandchildren,
all with their respective spouses, is even higher.
Jews in Russia reached an advanced stage of demographic transition
earlier than most of the population of the country. By 1926 their infant
mortality rate was as low as 54 per 1,000 newborns, which equals these
indicators for such countries as Sweden and Norway in the same period (this
comparison was made by L. S. Kaminskii [1930, p. 173]); the total urban
population of the Russian Federation arrived at about this same low indicator
only in 1955 (Goskomstat Rossii, 1998b, p. 86).
Serious differences in past and contemporary demographic processes in
Russia were found by position of different groups in the social system
(see, e.g.: Bondarskaya, 1994; Shkolnikov et al., 1998). And peculiarities
of Jewish demographic transition in the Russian Federation and the recent
level of their demographic indicators are a striking example which cannot
be ignored in understanding the fate of the total population of Russia
in the 20th century.
However, Russia's Jews are a unique group, and since 1989, the situation
of the Jews has changed dramatically. Official governmental antisemitism
was abolished, even though it was replaced by grass roots antisemitic activity
(see, e.g.: Brym, 1994). After the break-up of the USSR, Russia's Jews
received all rights, and community-building activities were initiated with
the help of world Jewry (Gitelman, 1994). At the same time, as our analysis
reveals these activities were started after these Jews had already reached
an advanced stage of demographic collapse, caused mainly by low fertility
of long duration.
In Russia, major and rapid changes are taking place in all areas. These
economic, cultural, and intellectual changes are likely to have a significant
effect on the number of Jews in the country and their propensity to emigrate.
If the economic and political situation further deteriorates and/or the
regime becomes more unstable, the Jewish population is likely to be seriously
This paper is part of a broader research project being carried out
by the author at the Division of Jewish Demography and Statistics, the
Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry, the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the conference
“Population of Russia in the 20th Century” (Moscow, December 21–22, 1998).
I wish to express my appreciation to Sergio DellaPergola for his advice.
I am grateful to Evgeny Andreev, Leonid Darsky, Sergei Zakharov and Arkadii
Zelltser for providing materials, information, and suggestions. I wish
also to thank Judith Even for reading and editing an earlier draft. Responsibility
for the content of the paper is, of course, the author's alone.
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