By Paul Goble
Despite progress since 2005 when more than half of working-age Russian men died before reaching retirement, 30 percent of 18-year-old Russian men today will still die before then, three times the rate of men in Muslim Albania and a trend that may be reversed by Moscow’s mistaken policies on alcohol prices and taxes.
Yesterday, the Russian health ministry said mortality rates among Russian adults had fallen 2.1 percent over the last year, with the figure falling from 545.5 deaths per 100,000 population to 534.3. It noted that these rates had declined by 35.3 percent over the last decade (rosminzdrav.ru/news/2015/09/02/2519-soobschenie-minzdrava-rossii-o-snizhenii-smertnosti-za-pervoe-polugodie-2015-goda).
Despite this progress, Russia had and has a very high rate of morality among working-age males compared to other countries, largely as a result of alcohol consumption, according to Andrey Korotayev, a demographer at the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service (polit.ru/article/2015/09/03/utro_02_09/).
The demographer points out noted that Albania, whose Muslim population has no tradition of drinking, has very low mortality among its working-age population. Only about 10 percent of its adult males die between 18 and 65 while somewhere around 30 percent of working-age Russian men still do.
Russia’s progress over the last decade, Korotayev says, has been “colossal,” an achievement he said had been possible thanks to increasing restrictions on alcohol consumption. But that in turn means that any loosening of those restrictions threatens to send adult male mortality rates back up.
He predicts that “mortality among the working-age population should increase” because the government chose not to raise taxes on alcohol and because since these taxes are not adjusted for inflation, price rises mean that the impact of taxes on overall alcohol prices and thus on consumption in fact is falling. The more inflation there is, the greater the impact of this factor.
Korotayev also says that some of the year-to-year progress the health ministry reported was a statistical quirk reflecting changes in alcohol policies last year. If one looks month by month, he says, mortality from alcohol-related causes went up two percent in February, 7.5 percent in May, “but in July there was a certain reduction which gave the not bad figures.”
If one plugs all these figures into existing models and if there are no policy changes, then, “working-age mortality especially among men will stop its decline” and by the end of the year, “one can expect that mortality will be higher than it was a year ago.”
There are ways to prevent that, he says. Indexing alcohol taxes to inflation rather than tying them to alcohol volume as now and eliminating the government’s recent reduction in the minimum price for alcohol would all have positive effects. But “if these measures aren’t taken,” mortality rates are going to go back up, particularly among working-age Russian men.