Staunton, February 21 – Approximately 200,000 Russians move from rural areas to urban ones every year, but today “the majority of those working age people who remain do not work in agriculture” but in the budget sector, according to a new study by Nikita Mkrtchyan and Tatyana Nefedova of the Higher School of Economics (publications.hse.ru/articles/211425956).
The popular image of rural to urban migration is that it is the result of young people fleeing from the farm to the bright lights of the big cities, the two geographers say; but the modernization of agriculture from labor-intensive to capital-intensive forms also plays a key role.
In many areas, young workers are no longer needed in the number that were only a decade or so ago; and so rural residents are forced to find other jobs in their home areas or, when they can’t, to move to the cities, often with the greatest reluctance as shown by the numbers of “backtrailers” who either maintain rural homes or retire to their home villages.
“Every year,” Mkrtchyan and Nefedova says, “between 90,000 and 174,000 villagers move into the urban settlements of their regions,” with the villages declining by between 31,000 and 76,000 people as a result. (The difference reflections immigration and returns, the two scholars point out.)
Official data suggest that immigration compensates for about a third of the rural to urban flight, “but in reality, there are significantly fewer such migrants in the villages: having gotten their registration there, they live and work in cities.” And so they do not in fact compensate for rural flight.
People aged 18 or so are the most likely to leave the villages: they do not yet have jobs or families and so feel freer to move, the two geographers say. This has been true since the 1950s, and it means that rural areas lose young people who have just completed their educations and the population as a whole becomes older.
Indeed, if one considers migration flows by age cohort, they say, out-migration from rural areas is much higher than in-migration among those under 40, but then the situation reverses itself with in-migration becoming higher than outmigration for each older group. At present, about 800,000 in official figures and many more in unofficial ones are returning to villages.
At present, they conclude, “the majority of labor-capable rural residents do not work in agriculture.” In most places, fewer than one in four or only 4.9 million out of 21 million do so. Far higher shares work in budgetary spheres, in some cases as high as 70 or 80 percent. These trends, the two say, are likely to continue.