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Autopsy on an Empire: Understanding Mortality in Russia and the Former Soviet Union

  • Elizabeth Brainerd
  • David M. Cutler

Male life expectancy at birth fell by over six years in Russia between 1989 and 1994. Many other countries of the former Soviet Union saw similar declines, and female life expectancy fell as well. Using cross-country and Russian household survey data, we assess six possible explanations for this upsurge in mortality. Most find little support in the data: the deterioration of the health care system, changes in diet and obesity, and material deprivation fail to explain the increase in mortality rates. The two factors that do appear to be important are alcohol consumption, especially as it relates to external causes of death (homicide, suicide, and accidents) and stress associated with a poor outlook for the future. However, a large residual remains to be explained.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 10868.

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Date of creation: Nov 2004
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Brainerd, Elizabeth and David M. Cutler. "Autopsy On An Empire: Understanding Mortality In Russia and The Former Soviet Union," Journal of Economic Perspectives, 2005, v19(1,Winter), 107-130.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:10868
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  1. Elizabeth Brainerd & David M. Cutler, 2004. "Autopsy on an Empire: Understanding Mortality in Russia and the Former Soviet Union," NBER Working Papers 10868, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Jan Rutkowski, 1996. "High skills pay off: the changing wage structure during economic transition in Poland," The Economics of Transition, The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, vol. 4(1), pages 89-112, 05.
  3. David Cutler & Edward Glaeser & Jesse Shapiro, 2003. "Why Have Americans Become More Obese?," NBER Working Papers 9446, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  4. Field, Mark G., 1995. "The health crisis in the former Soviet Union: A report from the 'post-war' zone," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 41(11), pages 1469-1478, December.
  5. Andrei Shleifer & Daniel Treisman, 2003. "A Normal Country," NBER Working Papers 10057, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Watson, Peggy, 1995. "Explaining rising mortality among men in Eastern Europe," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 41(7), pages 923-934, October.
  7. Stillman, Steven & Thomas, Duncan, 2004. "The Effect of Economic Crises on Nutritional Status: Evidence from Russia," IZA Discussion Papers 1092, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  8. 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.
  9. Robert J. Flanagan, 1995. "Wage Structure in the Transition of the Czech Economy," IMF Working Papers 95/36, International Monetary Fund.
  10. Robert J. Flanagan, 1995. "Wage Structures in the Transition of the Czech Economy," IMF Staff Papers, Palgrave Macmillan, vol. 42(4), pages 836-854, December.
  11. Brainerd, Elizabeth, 1998. "Winners and Losers in Russia's Economic Transition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 88(5), pages 1094-1116, December.
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