By Peter J. Smith

MOSCOW, September 26, 2006 ( – Russia’s Parliament is considering a proposal to reinstate a Soviet era “sterility tax” on childless Russians as part of a larger plan to encourage the birthrate The tax proposed by Parliament’s lower house, the Duma, would affect Russia’s 21 million singles, and aims to encourage them to have children, or help the state shoulder the financial burden of encouraging families to have more children.

The sterility tax is part of the panoply of drastic measures under consideration by the Russian Federation, since President Vladimir Putin announced that Russia’s greatest threat is its demographic decline. The Duma intends the tax either to encourage Russians to have more children, or make childless Russians help absorb the costs of the government’s maternal capital program, which gives 250,000 rubles (9,200USD) to mothers for the birth of another child.

The tax would reinstate in principle the first sterility tax imposed by Joseph Stalin in 1941, who saw it as a way to increase rapidly Russia’s population being devastated by Hitler’s invasion in World War II. Stalin’s tax required all the men (from 20 to 50) and women (from 20 to 45) to pay 6% of their salary to the state if they didn’t have children. The Duma’s childless tax is expected to operate along similar lines, although it has yet to work out concrete details.

Russia’s health and social development minister, Mikhail Zurabov has thrown his support behind the reinstatement of the tax, believing that the childless tax was one of the reasons the birthrate in the USSR gradually increased during the 1980’s and by 1987 achieved a fertility rate of 2.19. Zurabov credited the upheaval following the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 90’s for the subsequent drop to 1.17.

However, the Duma’s plan has met resistance in Parliament’s upper house, the Federation Council, on the basis that the childless tax would not affect much of Russia’s demographic crisis.

“We must work actively to solve our demographic problem,” said the Federation Council president Sergey Miranov in a statement. “We must produce multi-faceted solutions so that young families can have children. But I do not think that punishing people will have an impact on their decisions to have children. Punishment can neither have a positive impact on demographics or other kinds of problems.”

Miranov instead suggested that low wages and the absence of their own homes are the main reasons that young families are not having children.

However some critics of the sterility tax contend that economic incentives to spur population growth beg the question whether a self-centered consumerist culture would be willing to undertake the trials and sacrifices of raising children in the first place. They point out that Germany spends more on family subsidies and boasts the world’s second highest taxes on childless singles, but their fertility rate still remains below replacement at 1.39 (est. 2006).

The latest official statistics indicate that Russia’s population is withering away by at least 700,000 people each year, emptying the northern and eastern regions of Russia, and leaving hundreds of abandoned “ghost villages” dotting the Russian landscape. The Russian government estimates that the current population will decline to 80 and 100 million by 2050, although some consider that number to be conservative.

Although the Russian government has wrestled with creative proposals to defuse the rapidly unfolding demographic crisis, Russia’s politicians still continue to remain silent about addressing the elephant in the room, Russia’s unfettered culture of abortion. Abortions outnumber Russian births by a ratio of 2-1, and have been a part of Russia since the then Communist country became the first nation in the world to legalize abortion in 1920.