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

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  • Elizabeth Brainerd

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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 This paper uses previously unpublished archival data on infant mortality and anthropometric studies of children conducted across the Soviet Union to reassess the standard of living in the USSR using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

Paper provided by William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan in its series William Davidson Institute Working Papers Series with number wp812.

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Length: pages
Date of creation: 01 Jan 2006
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Handle: RePEc:wdi:papers:2006-812

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

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  1. William Easterly & Stanley Fischer, 1994. "The Soviet Economic Decline: Historical and Republican Data," NBER Working Papers 4735, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Komlos, John, 1998. "Shrinking in a Growing Economy? The Mystery of Physical Stature during the Industrial Revolution," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 58(03), pages 779-802, September.
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  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. 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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  10. Fogel, Robert W, 1994. "Economic Growth, Population Theory, and Physiology: The Bearing of Long-Term Processes on the Making of Economic Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 84(3), pages 369-95, June.
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Cited by:
  1. Olena Y. Nizalova & Maria Vyshnya, 2010. "Evaluation of the impact of the Mother and Infant Health Project in Ukraine," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 19(S1), pages 107-125, September.
  2. Mejía Cubillos, Javier, 2012. "Libertad y desempeño económico
    [Freedom and economic performance]
    ," MPRA Paper 37939, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  3. Izdebski, Adam & Koloch, Grzegorz & Słoczyński, Tymon & Tycner-Wolicka, Marta, 2014. "On the Use of Palynological Data in Economic History: New Methods and an Application to Agricultural Output in Central Europe, 0–2000 AD," MPRA Paper 54582, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  4. 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.
  5. 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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