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Adrienne Warren

Post-Soviet Demographics: Live Fast, Die Young?

In a colloborative medical study published in British health journal, The Lancet, a composite of Professors and Doctors examined  challenges to health and health systems in the CIS region. The study, entitled ‘Health and health systems in the Commonwealth of Independent States’ takes a look at the life expectancy rates in the Post-Sovietcountries, and the factors underpinning these statistics. The article elaborates, “Life expectancies dropped steeply in the 1990s, and several countries have yet to recover the levels noted before the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Cardiovascular disease is a much bigger killer in the Commonwealth of Independent States than in western Europe because of hazardous alcohol consumption and high smoking rates in men, the breakdown of social safety nets, rising social inequality, and inadequate health services.”

Kharkiv, Ukraine. author: mr. wood, source: Flickr

Kharkiv, Ukraine. author: mr. wood, source: Flickr

Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, explained that rife alcohol consumption in the Post-Soviet states was the key contributor to low-life expectancy and disease in these regions:

“What’s going on? Well, a number of things but one of the key points — particularly in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the north Slavic states — [is] alcohol, a huge problem with alcohol. Vodka? Yes, but that’s not the main issue, that’s not what is killing the majority of the people.”

The article also explains that alcohol is related to up to six out of every 10 deaths among working-age men and one in three among working-age women in Russia.

Life expectancy rates have fallen in many of the CIS countries, particularly male life expectancy. Belarus and Ukraine saw a drop in male life expectancy–falling from 66 years in 1990 to 64 in 2009 in Belarus, and in Ukraine it declined from 65 years in 1990 to 62 in 2009. Other nations have seen little or no change in life expectancy rates. In general, life expectancy in the CIS is currently around 12 years lower for men and eight years lower for women than in the European Union.

Concurrent to ‘Health and health systems in the Commonwealth of Independent States’, Forbes published a comparative analysis of Russia’s population demographics versus those of the Baltic States. The Baltics, often lauded for their quick recovery after the 2008 financial crisis, are perhaps not as great a success story as they appear to be, Forbes suggests. From the pure perspective of numbers, Russia is aided by a large number of migrants from Central Asia, while the Baltics are consistently drained as from exporting large numbers of people to other, wealthier, parts of the EU. Forbes‘ contributor Max Adomanis explains:

“…There was a substantial period of time where Russia was the laggard and where it was significantly under-performing in comparison to its neighbors. However, since 2005, there has been a very noticeable turnaround and Russia’s population dynamics have consistently improved while the Baltics’ have either stagnated or worsened.”

Adomanis continues:

“I have been so consistently dismissive of the Baltics’ economic performance after the financial crisis. It’s not because of an economic theory or some ideological fixation, it is because their own citizens behavior indicates that things aren’t going very well. Birth rates in the Baltics have consistently fallen for the past several years, and are now, on average, about 20% lower than in Russia. That hardly seems like the sort of performance anyone should brag about.”

Others have argued that comparing the Baltics to Russia is a non-starter, as Russia has a current population of nearly 142 million people, while the Baltic States  have a combined population of less than 7 million.

sources: Forbes, The Lancet, RFERL

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Graduated in International Relations and Russian. Resident of Estonia, but a citizen of the world. Most interested in contributing to the progress and education of mankind--as the primary tool of achieving global unity.

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