Russia and Ukraine Statistics

In this essay, I will review some demographic and economic statistics that are relevant to the war in Ukraine. I will not say much about the war itself.

Both Russia and Ukraine are in a demographic decline. Both have had below-replacement fertility for a long time. Both have shrinking populations with a high median age.

In 1900, the Russian fertility rate was over 7 children per woman. That was during a time of high child mortality, and almost no birth control. In 1920, the fertility rate was still very high: about 6.5. In 1930, it was still roughly 6. Child mortality rates started declining around 1910, and by 1930 the population was growing rapidly, due to a combination of high fertility and lower child mortality (although still high by modern standards).

At this time, Ukraine was part of Russia. There was a famine in Ukraine in 1932-1933, which killed millions of people. This is normally blamed on the Bolshevik government for its mismanagement of the economy and its confiscation of grain from rural Ukraine to feed the urban working population of Russia, which it valued more for ideological and political reasons. I believe that this story is essentially correct. However, to some extent the famine was also the consequence of rapid population growth. If population grows faster than food supply, famine will result.

Fertility rates in Russia and Ukraine declined during the 20th century, due to modernization. Birth control methods were introduced, and women went into the work force. The population moved into cities and crowded living conditions, in which children were an economic liability. By 1970, fertility was below replacement. It stayed close to 2 for the next two decades, but then fell even further after the collapse of the Soviet Union, due to the economic and social chaos of that time. In 1999, Russian fertility was at 1.2 children per woman. In Ukraine, it fell even lower, reaching 1 child per woman in 2001. Since then, there has been a slight rebound of fertility in both countries, but it has remained well below replacement level.

In 2020, the fertility rate was 1.5 in Russia, and 1.2 in Ukraine.

Source: The World Bank

The populations of both countries have been shrinking. In 1992, the Russian population peaked at 148.5 million. It is currently at 145.4 million, after the annexation of Crimea, which added about 2.2 million people. Ukraine's population peaked in 1993, at 52.2 million, and is currently at 41.2 million, after the loss of Crimea to Russia. Unlike Western societies, which also have low fertility rates, there is little immigration into Russia or Ukraine.

Source: The World Bank

Both countries have old populations. In Russia, the median age is about 40, and the life expectancy is about 71. In Ukraine, the median age is 41, and life expectancy is 72.

It is useful to look at the "shape" of a population, which is determined by age distribution of the population (or age and sex distribution). The age and sex distribution of Russia looks like this:


The Ukrainian population distribution by age and sex is similar.

The population of fighting-age men is highly relevant to war. Let's consider men between the ages of 20 and 34 as "fighting-age", although men are often conscripted younger. For Russia, the numbers are:

Age Group Number of Men
20 to 24 3,373,933
25-29 4,575,841
29-34 6,300,711
Total 14,250,485

If we consider only men between 20 and 29, the number is 7,949,774. (A typical military age is 18 – 27, so the numbers for 20 – 29 should be a good estimate, and slightly larger.)

For comparison, here is the age and sex distribution of Russia in 1941:

WWI and the Russian revolution caused the dip in the 20 to 24 age range. The hardships of the 1930s show in the 5 to 10 age range. The total population of Russia in 1941 was about 110 million, but it was much more youthful, and the young population was bigger than it is today.

Let that sink in: there are fewer young people in Russia today than in 1941.

The same basic story could be told for Ukraine.

Now let's look at the economic conditions in Ukraine and Russia.

Under Putin, per capita GDP has improved in Russia. After the collapse of the USSR, per capita GDP declined, and Russians went through a period of economic and social chaos, during which living standards declined, crime skyrocketed, and life expectancy fell. Putin’s support in Russia is largely based on social and economic improvements. Russia has also benefited from oil and gas revenues, and the higher oil prices of recent years. By contrast, Ukraine has stagnated economically, despite (and perhaps because of) its association with the West. 

Neither country has a very productive economy by Western standards. In 2018, Canada’s per capita GDP was about $45,000 USD, Russia’s was about $25,000 USD, and Ukraine’s was less than $10,000 USD. (All values inflation-adjusted to 2011 USD.) GDP is not a great metric of production, but it gives some idea of the differences between countries.

Source: Our World in Data

Russia's dependence on fossil fuel exports is both a strength and a weakness. Russia depends on those exports for its standard of living. However, the world also depends on Russian fossil fuel exports. As I write this, the price of crude oil has just climbed over $100 USD per barrel for the first time in two years. I expected oil prices to rise anyway, as economic activity resumed after the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the war will almost certainly cause them to rise more than they would otherwise.

Russia is the second biggest oil producer, after the United States. However, the US consumes all the oil that it produces and then some, while Russia is a net oil exporter. Russia is the second biggest oil exporter, after Saudi Arabia. Russia provides about 10% of global consumption.

Russia is also the second biggest producer of natural gas, after the United States, and it is the biggest exporter. It provides about 17% of global consumption. Germany, in particular, is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas imports.

Russia is also a major exporter of coal, wheat, iron, and other important commodities. If these products are removed from global markets, there will be shortages and price increases.

This war is clearly not motivated by demographic pressures. Neither Russia nor Ukraine has a growing population that needs more land or resources. Neither has a youthful, energetic population. The war does not have an economic rationale either. Russia has a strong incentive to maintain trade relationships with Europe and the rest of the world. Economic sanctions would punish both Russia and the rest of the world.

The war is part of an elite power struggle. There are economic and political interests involved, but they are not the interests of ordinary people.

Given Russia's demographic and economic situation, it would be very difficult to sustain a prolonged war effort. Russia's strongest weapon is simply turning off the energy tap, which it could do at any time, without a war. Perhaps Putin intended to provoke sanctions, so he could use this weapon. Otherwise, it's hard to understand his motives.


  1. In response to the last sentence, I think one of Putin's motives was made clear when he published his July 2021 essay "On the Historical Unity of Russians and Ukrainians". The essay indicates to me that Putin invaded Ukraine not because he wanted to provoke sanctions that would punish the West, but rather because a United Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus is part of his political ideology (ethnic and historical unity).

    Additionally, he tried to negotiate with the West before the war some terms that Ukraine should not be allowed to join NATO, and that NATO should reduce its troops and military hardware stationed in Eastern Europe. So from his perspective, it would be both a geopolitical and a national security issue if Ukraine joins NATO, which must be the second reason why he ordered the invasion.

    1. There's no doubt that Putin would like to reconstitute the USSR/Russian Empire, but he is a pragmatist, and this seems like a very dubious and risky move. So I'm wondering how he thinks it will work.


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