Demographic Trends in Kazakhstan

I got some interest in my brief mention below of the vast difference between male and female life spans here in this part of the world.  I thought I’d write a post and share with you some pretty fascinating demographic information about Kaz.

To prove my point about the vast gender difference in mortality, check out this article, titled “KAZAKHSTAN: Alarm raised over deteriorating health of men.”

Some key points from the article:
  • The gap between male and female life expectancy is – at 11 years – among the world’s highest. Kazakhstan’s men live on average to 61.5 and women to 72.5.”  By the way, at birth the male-female ratio is 1.06 male(s)/female (a few more boys are born than girls).  By 65 years and over, the ratio is 0.54 male(s)/female (there are nearly twice as many women here over 65 as men!)! 
  • Urban working-age males are disproportionately affected by high mortality rates, which can be explained by the high death rates in industrial facilities (mining, metallurgy, construction) where urban men tend to work.
  • As I mentioned: “Behavioural factors play a role in male mortality, with smoking, alcohol abuse, poor nutrition and lack of physical activity all causing men’s health to deteriorate.”
  • Since Kazakhstan is such a large country with such a small population, “increasing the population is a national priority” and “demographers say the strategy should address male mortality.” Makes sense.

[Kazakhstan population pyramid, showing break-down of gender by age bracket]

From my own observations, I would not say that women exercise a lot more or eat much differently than men, but there are certainly less women here who smoke and drink on a regular basis.  Cheap vodka and cigarettes are overabundant here and are disproportionately consumed by men.  Also, men drive a LOT more frequently than women here.  For example I have seen exactly 0 female taxi or bus drivers in my time here so far.  And as I have mentioned, roads are very dangerous here and there are a ton of accidents.  That is undoubtedly also a factor in the mortality sex-ratio difference.

I will leave you with a few other general demographic points about Kazakhstan.  In 1939 there were about 6 million people, with 72% in rural areas and 28% in urban.  In 2009 that number had increased to 16 million, with only 47% rural and 53% urban.  Hurrah for development!  But keep in mind though that 16 million people in the whole country is the equivalent population of a paltry 1 or 2 Chinese cities.

Also interesting to note is the ethno-demographic make-up of the country.  In 1939 there were more Russians in Kazakhstan (back then the Soviet Socialist Republic) than ethnic Kazakhs (40% and 38%, respectively).  Many of them, as well as members of a huge slew of other ethnic groups (Volga Germans, Ukrainians, Tatars, Koreans, Poles, etc.), were exiled to Kazakhstan under Stalin.  In 2006 the numbers are drastically different: Kazakhstan is now roughly 59% Kazakh and only 26% Russian.  This trend lines up with the “reclaiming” of Kazakhstan after the fall of the Soviet Union, the reestablishing of Kazakh as the national language (though Russian is also still recognized as a language of official business), and the large out-migration of Russians and other nationalities as they were repatriated by their “original” countries (e.g. Russians back to Russia, Germans back to Germany).  

On a very related note, everyone here still identifies with their “original nationality,” which is actually written on your passport (and if you are mixed, you have to pick just one).  Unlike in the U.S., even if your family has lived in Kazakhstan for many generations, but you are visibly ethnically Russian, you will answer “Russian,” and not “Kazakhstanian” when someone asks you “What is your nationality?”  This keeps national identity in Kazakhstan from becoming a melting pot, and instead results in perpetual division among ethnic groups by bloodline (Even within the ethnic Kazakh group itself, there is division into three separate ancient “hordes” that people here still associate with, after all this time.  It’s all about your ancestry!). That’s why I get so much confusion when I respond to the question “What nationality are you?” with “American”…they invariably ask again several times (“But no really…what nationality are you ACTUALLY?”) and look very confused, because I can’t possibly be JUST American, especially if I look Asian.  That’s an uphill battle I’ll probably never win here. 

The fertility rate in Kazakhstan is 2.5 for Kazakhs and 1.38 for Russians in 1999, which also helps explain the above ethnic breakdown (since Kazakhs have more babies than Russians here).  South Kazakhstan Oblast, where I live, also has by far the highest average fertility rate: 2.86 compared to only 1.72 in the North, 1.41 in the East, and 1.00 in Almaty.  That makes sense too, as SKO is far more rural, and with village life comes more traditional lifestyles, earlier marriages, and higher birth rates.  People here ask me all the time whether I plan to get married in the next few years – 25 is incontrovertibly old-maid age here!   And in Issyk, my host-granny was a great-grandmother at age 60, as both she, her daughter-in-law and her granddaughter gave birth before age 20. As you can see, these demographic facts translate into real cultural experiences that I witness every day.
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One Response to Demographic Trends in Kazakhstan

  1. marissa eve says:

    Interesting post, Becca! I've had similar experiences as you when trying to explain to someone that I just call myself "American". One older colleague demanded, "No, but what does it say on your PASSPORT?" … When I insisted that it also confirms that I'm American, she literally walked away in a huff. While living in a country with multiple languages and cultures can be confusing for me, it's also fascinating. I love this aspect of Kazakhstan. I do hope, however, that the country can grow more unified ethnically. I've never heard anyone called themselves "Kazakhstani", but I can't help but think that a "Kazakhstani" mindset would help this country to achieve many of their future development goals. Also, I like what you posted on my blog, and it's funny because I was planning to write to you: "Kak vas name?"See you soon!!!

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