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Article

Decreasing labor intensity in agriculture and the accessibility of major cities shape the rural population decline in postsocialist Russia

Eurasian Geography and Economics. 2021. Vol. 62. No. 4. P. 481-506.
Sheludkov A., Kamp J., Müller D.

Rural population decline has been observed in most developed and emerging economies but has been especially apparent in postsocialist countries. In this paper, we investigate the spatial patterns and the determinants of the rural population dynamics during the transition period from 1991 to 2010 in Tyumen Province, Russia, with the aim of better understanding the forces underlying depopulation. We use descriptive and exploratory statistical tools to analyze data from population censuses and district-level statistics of agriculture. Our results reveal distinct differences in the spatial clusters of the population increase and decline in the first and second decades of the post-Soviet era. We argue that these differences reflect the penetration of market relations into the countryside. The emergence of market forces initially advantaged the areas that were more suited to agriculture, which experienced population growth in the 1990s. Later, the drop in agricultural output, market-driven restructuring of farms, and introduction of labor-saving technologies reduced employment in agriculture. During the 2000s, labor opportunities in agriculture were no longer statistically related to rural population dynamics, while population dynamics in the villages have increasingly been determined by transport accessibility to larger markets, especially to the provincial capital. Governments need to be sensitive to these spatial and temporal population dynamics to foster opportunities in the countryside, avoid the negative side effects of depopulation on local economies and ensure the provision of social services.