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The Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol Campaign and Russia's Mortality Crisis

  • Bhattacharya, Jay


    (Stanford University)

  • Gathmann, Christina


    (Heidelberg University)

  • Miller, Grant


    (Stanford University)

Political and economic transition is often blamed for Russia's 40% surge in deaths between 1990 and 1994 (the "Russian Mortality Crisis"). Highlighting that increases in mortality occurred primarily among alcohol related causes and among working-age men (the heaviest drinkers), this paper investigates an alternative explanation: the demise of the 1985-1988 Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol Campaign. We use archival sources to build a new oblast-year data set spanning 1970-2000 and find that: (1) The campaign was associated with substantially fewer campaign year deaths, (2) Oblasts with larger reductions in alcohol consumption and mortality during the campaign experienced larger transition era increases, and (3) Other former Soviet states and Eastern European countries exhibit similar mortality patterns commensurate with their campaign exposure. The campaign's end explains a large share of the mortality crisis, suggesting that Russia's transition to capitalism and democracy was not as lethal as commonly suggested.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 6783.

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Length: 70 pages
Date of creation: Aug 2012
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 2013, 5 (2), 232-60
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp6783
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  1. Nathan Nunn & Nancy Qian, 2009. "The Potato's Contribution to Population and Urbanization: Evidence from an Historical Experiment," NBER Working Papers 15157, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Jay Bhattacharya & Christina Gathmann & Grant Miller, 2012. "The Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol Campaign and Russia's Mortality Crisis," NBER Working Papers 18589, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Brainerd, Elizabeth, 2001. "Economic Reform and Mortality in the Former Soviet Union: A Study of the Suicide Epidemic in the 1990s," IZA Discussion Papers 243, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Hoyt Bleakley, 2007. "Disease and Development: Evidence from Hookworm Eradication in the American South," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 122(1), pages 73-117, 02.
  5. Ellman, Michael, 1994. "The Increase in Death and Disease under "Katastroika."," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 18(4), pages 329-55, August.
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