By Paul Goble
The Kremlin typically focuses on birthrates when it talks about demography, but in fact, many of Russia’s most pressing problems reflect death rates which for many age cohorts are today no lower than they were in 1965, according to Anatoly Vishnevsky, director of the Moscow Institute of Demography.
This is connected in the first instance, he says, with the “risky” behavior of adult males, particularly overconsumption of alcohol. Indeed, at present, “the main high contingent are adult males aged 35 to 40 who should not be dying but are (znak.com/2017-08-25/demograf_anatoliy_vishnevskiy_o_krizise_rozhdaemosti_roste_smertnosti_i_probleme_migracii).
Frequently, Vishnevsky continues, this is hidden by the statistics the authorities choose to talk about. Russian life expectancy has risen but only thanks to a reduction in infant mortality not mortality of older groups. That is because cutting mortality rates among the youngest groups has the greatest impact on overall mortality.
There are other problems among adults as well, he says. HIV infections and mortality from AIDS continue to grow in Russia even though deaths from this disease have declined in advanced countries. The infections largely occurred in the 1990s, but the deaths are only coming now as the disease has a long gestation period.
And Russian adults suffer from super-high levels of deaths from other causes like murder, suicides, accidents and so on. Some of the last can be blamed on bad roads, but a far larger cause is the inability of the government to ensure that ambulances will arrive at accident scenes soon enough to save people.
As a result, Vishnevsky says, “there has been a complete stagnation in Russia” as far as life expectancy is concerned at least compared to other developed countries. And the situation threatens to get worse. Russia passed the first demographic transition with the introduction of antibiotics for infectious diseases. But it is not doing well with the second.
That involves diseases not caused by infections and other causes. There Russia is lagging behind, and the government bears much of the responsibility. It is spending far less of its GDP on health care and other public services than any country with an aging population must if conditions are to improve.
Vladimir Putin likes to talk about reaching a life expectancy of 76 by 2025, Vishnevsky says; but the Kremlin leader and his supporters fail to point out that many countries are at that point now and will have longer life expectancies then. Thus, in what may appear to be its racing ahead, Russia is in fact falling further behind.