For the recent years so much deterrent demographic forecasts had been sounded that there is only one impression: we are leading to the apocalypse. We were presented with a fait that in half a century population of Belarus would decrease twice, were frightened that in a century or two population of Belarus would disappear from the world map. The other day one more alternative point of view had been presented to the deputies of the House of Representatives of the National assembly of Belarus in the course of “round table” arranged under the auspices of the United Nations Organization Population Fund (UNFPA) in Belarus. This point of view belongs to Sergey SHCHERBOV head of research group on population dynamics and forecasting of Vienna Demography Institute of Austrian Academy of Sciences, representative of International Institute of applied system analysis. Sergey Yakovlevich’ hard-hitting forecast announced in public for the first time together with his colleagues: no overpopulation threatens the planet when it reaches a “peak” of 9 billion to 2070 the quantity of Earthman will decline made a lot of fuss. In this turn, correspondent of “SB” twice as interested to hear from such a strict expert how he estimates our, Belarusian, prospects. And it was twice as pleasant to hear that gossip about apocalypse had been exaggerated.
— I prepared three forecasts for Belarus. The first one is the most pessimistic one — what will be if it remains as it is. If the government, as the saying runs, will sit on its hands. But even with such prospect number of inhabitants will decline to the middle of the century nowise twice, 6 millions of Belarusian people will be left. The second script, I should say, is unreal optimistic: what will be if in some incredible way birth rate increases to 2.1, it means every woman during her life will give birth to at least two children? And the third one: what results will the National program on demographic give? Basically, to my mind, the characteristics put in it are quite real and achievable. Of course, we had to work and not relaxing but properly.
— Sergey Yakovlivich, why do you think that cumulative birth rate equal to two is so fantastic?
— In Europe two countries have such rate — Turkey and Albania with strong Moslem traditions.
In other countries we can observe the same tendencies as in Belarus. So what is happening? From one part, nowadays women want to have less children. They long on a par with men to participate in social life, to learn, work at good positions. And competition arises between professional career and career of a mother. Besides, fertility declines because women lay aside “calendar of births”: a bit later to bear the first child and a bit later — the second one… As a result in Europe middle age of those who bear for the first time — 30 years. By the way due to this fact in Spain and Italy birth rate was at the level 1 for some period of time. I am very often asked: earlier in families there were three or four children, how can we get back to such model? To tell the truth, I don’t know. It means to change the system of values of a modern emancipated woman! The only thing possible to do is to weaken in some way a conflict of interests “home — work”.
— As well as it had been done in Russia by high benefits?
— I don’t think that even impressive lump sum payments will make women change their life principles. This measure may alter only “calendar of births”: women will try to bear earlier. Say, if the government changes its resolution in future? A small demographic wave will arise and then decline again. It seems to me the experience of France and Sweden is more successful. There a very good infrastructure for family needs was created — they gave a real possibility for a woman to combine career of a mother not abandoning her social realization.
— A hot issue in Belarus is a low length of life in comparison with developed countries...
— This is of course the most difficult problem. Almost half of all men do not reach pension age. On average Belarusian women live longer — about 75 years. But still it’s not enough. (For example, in the Western Europe an overall average “women’s lifetime” is 82 years). Your National demographic safety program provides the length of life increase by 2 years. This is a considerable amount of time, but there is nothing impossible in it. If we refer to experience of the developed countries we will see that this is an exact amount which is added to an average length of life each ten years.
— However, the increase of an average length of life has its back side: Europe is getting old!
— No, this is a back side of a low birth rate. To 2065 for one working European will fall two pensioners (if, of course, the authorities will not find a method to encourage women to the earlier birth of the first child). Thus, the pension age increase is inevitable. Otherwise there will be nobody to take care of the old men! Besides, if a Belarusian program operates, the same phenomenon will be present. A “side effect” of success will become the fact that to 2070 one working Belarusian will have to feed one pensioner, if you don’t change the age of going on the rest deserved. When as of today for 10 people of working age fall three old men. Alas, it is impossible to avoid a rapid ageing. Indeed, if in Belarus today the half of men is younger than forty years, and another half — older, than in thirty years the “watershed” will come on the mark of 50 years.
— And what are the perspectives of Belarus against the background of its nearest neighbors — Russia and Ukraine?
— The situation you have is better after all. Only one figure: with the most favorable, “fantastic” developments both Russia and Ukraine in half a century are going to lose 14–15 per cent of the population. Belarus — 10 per cent. But it will lose it inevitably!
— Then, when looking at the situation without pink-colored spectacles, we should be ready anyway...
— ...to the fact that population will be reducing over a prolonged period, whatever the attempts would be. Though in the next few years a certain demographic splash will be still observed. Why is it impossible to retard the population decrease? This is just its age structure: generations of daughters are smaller than the generations of mothers. It is important to understand it in order to avoid leisure talks: we have accepted the program and it doesn’t work — the population is not growing! The program can operate excellent, but the result will be noticeable within long years. I want to underline that the paucity of nation in itself is not a problem. On the vast territories of Canada and Australia also few people live, but they live good. Your main problem is ageing of the population. It is necessary to think yet. And also beforehand. Demographic processes are extremely inertial, stretched in the course of time. In my opinion, the most optimal way is to invest in the so-called human capital assets: in education and health. It means that if less people are born we should get them work longer and more efficiently. Though, all recommendations, if you wish — “boundaries”, are exactly and systematically provided in the National demographic safety program. It should be observed...