I was extremely interested by this book–not knowing anything at all about demography beforehand–it was a real encyclopedia of Russian life, and of many other things besides. The text can be found in pdf here.
The meaning of the title is that societies as they become industrialised and urbanised experience a decrease in mortality, which then leads to a decrease in birthrate, which process comprises ‘Demographic modernisation’.
This death rate thing explains rather a lot:
In all preceding ages, high mortality necessitated a high and stable birth rate, which could only be guaranteed by subjecting people’s large-scale behaviour in producing offspring to strict rules. It was necessary to make the chain connecting the sex act, conception, bringing to term, the feeding and care of children simultaneously both mandatory and unbreakable.
(That leads me to wonder whether all of this religion nonsense is well is an adaptation specifically to conditions of high mortality, rather than primitive ones in general. So that’s the way to a religious revival–through diphtheria, whooping cough, and scarlet fever.)
It’s interesting to see, from the data presented on life expectancy, that in the early 1960s Russia did catch up with the West, as described in Red Plenty, but it didn’t last for very long.
Referring to more contemporary times, the book notes:
Contrary to deaths caused by diseases of the circulatory system, excess deaths from the different types of accidents are not concentrated in some or other age-groups, but are quite evenly distributed, displaying to the world how weakly on all sides the Russian is defended against carelessness, negligence and violence.
There’s something very Russian about that conception of people as the helpless victims on unseen and maleficent influences…
Another interesting point is that the age of (first) marriage and of birth of the first child have remained lower than in Western countries, over a period when the number of births per woman has decreased from 8 or so to substantially less than 2:
The book often compares Russia with a ‘peer group’ of industrialised and urbanised countries in the West. You could ask whether this is a fair comparison–with regard to birth statistics, we frequently get United States (Whites) as one of the comparators, but maybe United States (Blacks), as a group also subject to severe external shocks, would also be an interesting comparator.
On a professional level, Lenin also gets to give his views on statistics:
Statistics must illustrate socioeconomic relations established by a comprehensive analysis, and not turn into an end in itself, as it so often does with us… [The Central Statistical Agency] must not be an ‘academic’ organ and not an independent’ one, which by old bourgeois habit it is for nine-tenths of the time now, but an organ of socialist construction, checking, accounting for what a socialist state has to know now, this moment, first of all.