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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 This paper uses previously unpublished archival data on infant mortality and anthropometric studies of children conducted across the Soviet Union to reassess the standard of living in the USSR using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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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 5525.

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Date of creation: Mar 2006
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:5525

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Keywords: health; Russia; Soviet Union; standard of living;

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References

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Cited by:
  1. 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.
  2. Olena Nizalova & Maria Vyshnya, 2009. "Evaluation of the Impact of the Mother and Infant Health Project in Ukraine," Discussion Papers 18, Kyiv School of Economics, revised Nov 2009.
  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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