Urban demographic decline in the traditional industrial regions of the Urals (1959–2010)

Sergey Bakanov


This article considers the demographic disaster that occurred in traditional industrial Ural cities between the 1960s and the 2000s and demonstrates its scale. A ‘depressed city’ is a term denoting a stage in a city’s development: it is characterised by a decline in production, the emergence of unemployment, and a decrease in investment and migration, all of which is followed by a fall in population. This research is based on calculations and comparisons of the demographic dynamics found in the All-Soviet Union and All-Russian censuses of 1959, 1970, 1979, 1980, 2002, and 2010 from the perspective of a number of individual Ural towns. The Urals have faced the same problems as American cities of the Appalachian region, German cities of the Ruhr district, and British coalmining and metallurgical regions in the 20th century. The author proposes a method for revealing depressed settlements. It uses two demographic criteria: first, a decrease of population exceeding five percent per decade and, second, the stability of a negative demographic balance across several decades. In accordance with this method, it is established that during the late Soviet period (1959–89) 18 Ural towns could be characterised as depressed. Between the 1960s and 1980s, such tendencies had a local nature in the Urals, mainly affecting mining areas and some metallurgical centres. However, between the 1990s and 2000s structural economic reforms and a shift to market forms of economic management caused a dramatic decline in production, mass unemployment, and a drop in living standards: 56 Ural cities thus became depressed. Only the cities of Bashkortostan, where petrochemical production has a significant presence, showed population growth, while other regions witnessed a significant loss of population. Once a local problem, depression became a sub-regional phenomenon striking entire agglomerations and territorial production complexes. Major Ural cities were unable to absorb all of the migration from settlements and towns of the region, which caused an outflow of population from the Urals. The two post-Soviet decades can be characterised by large-scale urban decline in the Urals: there was, on average, a 6.4 per cent population decrease in all the cities of the Ural macro-region.


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15826/qr.2017.1.211


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