Monday, July 09, 2007

Dwindling?: Data suggests unhealthy future for Armenian nation

Jun 29, 2007, Armenia
By Gayane Abrahamyan
ArmeniaNow reporter

According to United Nations demographic data, by 2025 Armenia’s population will decrease by 25 percent, due to current social patterns.

Since independence, the country’s birthrate and number of marriages has dropped by nearly half. The need to increase the birthrate was included in some political parties’ platforms in the recent parliamentary campaign.

The trend is seen as a national security threat, considering that Azerbaijan anticipates 31 and Turkey 43 percent increase in population by 2025. (The difference for Armenia’s neighbors, researchers say, is due to current trends as well as religious and cultural factors.)

Insecurity and social hardship make many Armenians, especially men, leave and try their luck somewhere else.

“The dynamics of Armenia’s main demographic index gives rise to serious concerns. Besides the fact that the population keeps decreasing, the demographic structure changes as well- the number of young people is dropping, and that of the elderly is growing. Social burden gets heavier, which bodes ill for the country,” says the Head of the Armenian Social-Demographic Initiative Ruben Yeganyan stating that demographic indices are highly important for understanding the country’s further economic possibilities and defense capability issues.

If before 1990s about 80,000 infants were annually born in Armenia, today that number has dropped to 37,000. Concurrently the death-rate has grown, from 22,000 in 1990 to 27,000 in 2005.

According to Karine Kuyumjyan, head of the Census and Demography department at the National Statistical Service, during the post-Soviet years marriage number showed drastic decrease.

In 1990s when the population was 3.5 million 28,000 marriages per year were registered, whereas today the figure is only 16,500-17,000 marriages out of 3.2 million population (by the 2001 census data)

According to sociologist Aharon Adibekyan, head of the Armenian Center for Independent Sociology “Sociometer”, it’s not as if people in Armenia don’t want to get married and have children, but are hindered by social condition.

“Who cares for Armenia’s demographic situation? They will start thinking when it will be impossible to recover it, when there won’t be any boys left to take to the army,” says Adibekyan.

For now the birthrate is higher than death-rate by 10,000, but demographer Yeganyan predicts from demographic viewpoint that in 5-10 years the number of deaths will exceed that of births.

According to Yeganyan, Armenia lacks a demographic policy and both direct and indirect factors influence deterioration of the situation.

One of such factors is migration. In the last 15 years, as the National Statistical Service data show, 900,000 people have migrated out of the country, 65 percent of which are men of reproductive age and work capacity, this resulting in a disproportion of sexes.

If in the past the 2-3 children families were a model, now the new tendency model is one child, or at best, two children families, which, as ethnographer Hranush Kharatyan believes, is mostly a result of unfavorable social conditions rather than a change of tradition.

“The ideas about a traditional family have not undergone essential changes, as in European countries. Today, too, the majority of our youth wants to get married and form a family, and by a family they understand one with children. But they don’t know whether they can support those children- there is no trust in the future,” Kharatyan says.

Psychologist Svetlana Arutchyan assures that the effect of moral-psychological atmosphere in the decrease of birth-rate is extremely important; however it (the effect) can be reduced if, for example, the state takes some steps to improve our economic situation.

“People feel defenseless here and naturally avoid having children in a country where they are not sure their child would have a secure childhood. Everything starts at maternity hospitals: if you don’t pay the doctor properly, you can’t be sure your child would be born healthy, without traumas,” says Arutchyan.

In 2005 the state took a step to stimulate the birthrate by passing a law on medical assistance to pregnant women at all medical institutions to become free of charge.

Nonetheless that law, as many others, remained on paper, and in reality having a baby has become a very expensive undertaking. At Yerevan maternity hospitals delivering a child costs in average from $300-400, with additional costs for the commonly-practiced “C-section”.

Housing has also become a problem. In the Soviet times the state provided young families with apartments by the principle of putting them on a waiting list. Today, young couples instead face the capitalism reality of mortgage – which few can afford.

“If a family has two sons, one of them is married and lives with his parents, then the other will avoid marrying, as it is very hard for three families to live together. This results in decreased number of marriages and a higher number of divorces,” says Adibekyan.

Research held in 2005 on Armenia’s demographic and health issues says that 70 percent of 6,500 surveyed women of reproductive age answered they were not planning to have more children.

“The state has to take serious measures before traditions shift so that when the country develops, social issues are solved, they won’t have children not because of housing or financial problems, but for lack of time or desire. And that is very hard to fight with,” says Arutchyan.

Note: Above are excerpts from the article. The full article appears here. Clarifications and comments by me are contained in {}. Deletions are marked by [...]. The bold emphasis is mine.



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