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Reassessing the Standard of Living in the Soviet Union: An Analysis Using Archival and Anthropometric Data

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  • Brainerd, Elizabeth

Abstract

Both Western and Soviet estimates of GNP growth in the USSR indicate that GNP per capita grew in every decade – sometimes rapidly – from 1928 to 1985. While this measure suggests that the standard of living improved in the USSR throughout this period, it is unclear whether this economic growth translated into improved well-being for the population as a whole. This paper uses previously unpublished archival data on infant mortality and anthropometric studies of children conducted across the Soviet Union to reassess the standard of living in the USSR using these alternative measures of well-being. In the prewar period these data indicate a population extremely small in stature and sensitive to the political and economic upheavals visited upon the country by Soviet leaders and outside forces. Remarkably large and rapid improvements in infant mortality, birth weight, child height and adult stature were recorded from approximately 1940 to the late 1960s. While this period of physical growth was followed by stagnation in heights and an increase in adult male mortality, it appears that the Soviet Union avoided the sustained declines in stature that occurred in the United States and United Kingdom during industrialization in those countries.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal The Journal of Economic History.

Volume (Year): 70 (2010)
Issue (Month): 01 (March)
Pages: 83-117

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Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:70:y:2010:i:01:p:83-117_00

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  1. Robert W. Fogel, 1986. "Nutrition and the Decline in Mortality since 1700: Some Preliminary Findings," NBER Chapters, in: Long-Term Factors in American Economic Growth, pages 439-556 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Steckel, Richard H., 1979. "Slave height profiles from coastwise manifests," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 16(4), pages 363-380, October.
  3. William Easterly & Stanley Fischer, 1994. "The Soviet Economic Decline: Historical and Republican Data," NBER Working Papers 4735, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Fogel, Robert W., 1993. "Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy," Nobel Prize in Economics documents 1993-1, Nobel Prize Committee.
  5. John Komlos, . "Shrinking in a Growing Economy? The Mystery of Physical Stature during the Industrial Revolution," Articles by John Komlos 7, Department of Economics, University of Munich.
  6. Robert C. Allen, 2001. "The rise and decline of the Soviet economy," Canadian Journal of Economics, Canadian Economics Association, vol. 34(4), pages 859-881, November.
  7. Abram Bergson, 1991. "The USSR before the Fall: How Poor and Why," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 5(4), pages 29-44, Fall.
  8. Haines, Michael R. & Craig, Lee A. & Weiss, Thomas, 2003. "The Short and the Dead: Nutrition, Mortality, and the in the United States," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 63(02), pages 382-413, June.
  9. Richard H. Steckel, 1999. "Industrialization and Health in Historical Perspective," NBER Historical Working Papers 0118, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Dora Costa & Richard H. Steckel, 1997. "Long-Term Trends in Health, Welfare, and Economic Growth in the United States," NBER Chapters, in: Health and Welfare during Industrialization, pages 47-90 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. Richard H. Steckel, 1995. "Percentiles of Modern Height Standards for Use in Historical Research," NBER Historical Working Papers 0075, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. Robert William Fogel, 1993. "New Sources and New Techniques for the Study of Secular Trends in Nutritional Status, Health, Mortality, and the Process of Aging," NBER Historical Working Papers 0026, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Bergson, A., 1991. "The Ussr Before The Fall: How Poor And Why," Harvard Institute of Economic Research Working Papers 1540, Harvard - Institute of Economic Research.
  14. Stanley Fischer, 1994. "Russia and the Soviet Union Then and Now," NBER Chapters, in: The Transition in Eastern Europe, Volume 1, pages 221-258 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  15. John Strauss & Duncan Thomas, 1998. "Health, Nutrition, and Economic Development," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(2), pages 766-817, June.
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Cited by:
  1. Nizalova, Olena Y. & Vyshnya, Maria, 2009. "Evaluation of the Impact of the Mother and Infant Health Project in Ukraine," IZA Discussion Papers 4593, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Steckel, Richard H., 2009. "Heights and human welfare: Recent developments and new directions," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(1), pages 1-23, January.
  3. Mejía Cubillos, Javier, 2012. "Libertad y desempeño económico
    [Freedom and economic performance]
    ," MPRA Paper 37939, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  4. Cvrcek, Tomas, 2009. "Inequality and living standards under early communism: Anthropometric evidence from Czechoslovakia, 1946-1966," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 46(4), pages 436-449, October.

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