Friday, September 12, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Biographies of Russians Now Far Less Predictable, Researchers Say

Paul Goble


            Staunton, September 12 – It is a commonplace to observe that Russia has been much changed over the last 50 years as a result of social and political convulsions, but two Moscow researchers have now focused on the ways in which those dramatic events have affected the life trajectories of various generations.


                According to Alla Tyndik of the Center for the Analysis of Incomes and Standard of Living at the Higher School of Economics and Ekaterina Mitrofanova of that school’s Institute of Demography, the progression of life stages among Russians has changed in major ways ( and summarized at

            On the basis of two surveys involving some 15,000 respondents born between 1930 and 1989, they say that the biographies of Russians have become more diverse with significant changes in the expected order of school, establishing a family, work and pension among different generations.

            In the first half of the 20th century, they say, “the life paths of Russians were more predictable,” with a stable order to the experiences of people. But at century’s end, the changes in Russia meant that younger people have had “more varied life trajectories,” with all the consequences that entails.

            “The life of Russians became less monotonous,” they say, with “new turning points” arising. Work became less tied to a single enterprise, marriage became far from the only “socially acceptable” choice, and people became more willing to consider a future in which they would not have any children at all.

            Because of rising educational requirements, the age at which Russians have entered the workforce has continued to rise. Those born in the 1930s began to work on average at 18.8 years; those born in the 1940s and 1950s at 20.3 years; and those born between 1960 and 1989 only at 21.

            That has consequences for gender roles. Among those entering the workforce before 20, there is little difference between the share of men and women, but later, after finishing their educations, “the chances among women to begin a career are less,” because that time corresponds with the period of beginning a family with the birth of a first child.

            Compared to those born earlier and those born later, Russians born in the 1970s, the researchers say, suffered from unemployment the most frequently. They had a harder time getting a first positon and were more likely to lose that than those from older and younger cohorts.

            Indeed, it is precisely the children of the 1970s who have had the “most varied” lives in which the standard trajectory of the past has been violated. (Those born later have seen a return in many cases to the standard pattern of earlier generations.) And that makes them stand out as far as attitudes and expectations about the future are concerned.

            But intriguingly, the group hit hardest by unemployment during their lives has been not the children of the 1970s but those born just before them at the end of the 1960s.  Of those born in 1969, some 10 percent had had experience with unemployment of less than a year, four percent for a year to two years, and seven percent with more than two years.

            Among the younger groups, the two researchers say, the most typical pattern is “education, work, child, voluntary exit from the workforce, and a return to work. For men, there is the additional element of “army and then work” but “there is no consistent pattern of ‘army and then education,” only “education, army and then work.”

            And for women, after leaving the workforce to take care of a child, a return to work is typical. Becoming homemakers is “a rare thing,” so rare the two demographic researchers say that it isn’t even shown on their graphs.


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