Russia’s demographic fortune has been a frequent topic on this blog as we’ve tracked the large nation’s demographic decline throughout the 1990s and early 2000s and its improvements in the last few years. The decline or otherwise of Russia’s population has been a contentious issue, not least because boosting Russia’s population has been on Putin’s “to-do” list for sometime (after he finishes working out with his buddies of course!)

Now there is some more bad news from the Moscow Times about increases in Russia’s life expectancy figures slowing down.

According to recent research published in the Lancet medical journal, global life expectancy is rising. While Russia is also rising, its growth is much slower than the global average. In 1990, Russians’ life expectancy was 69.4 years, over four years more than the global average of 65.3 years. However in 2013 the Russian life expectancy was slightly below the global average: 71.2 and 71.5 years respectively. While great strides have been made across the world at helping people to live longer, in Russia the life expectancy is growing, but at a much more anaemic rate. Russia is now 108 on the list of the countries with the highest life expectancy. It is now nestled on the list between less-than-salubrious neighbours: Iraq and North Korea…

Interestingly enough, this is not simply a post-Communism phenomenon. According to Vasily Vlasov, a professor at the Higher School of Economics’ Center for Health Care Policy and a contributor to the study:

“[Life expectancy in Russia] started to decline at the beginning of the 1960s, and it has been, basically, doing so ever since. At the end of the 1980s it started to fluctuate — increasing and decreasing. The latest increase period lasted some eight years, until last year when it had its peak.”

What is more alarming is that experts think that the situation will likely get worse:

“The situation is likely to get worse, said both Vlasov and [Olga] Isupova [senior lecturer at the Higher School of Economics’ Institute for Demography]. ‘Either life expectancy growth will continue slowing down, or it will start to decline,’ said Isupova.

‘The mortality rate is increasing this year. No one knows yet how high it will get and for how long. I cautiously suggest that it is the beginning of another round of mortality rate growth,’ said Vlasov.”

There are many factors that can be said to be to blame for Russia’s life expectancy falling below the global average, although it is hard to assess the importance of each one. A poorly performing economy is one factor, especially as government expenditure on health care is being reduced. Additionally, Russians are “reckless” about their health and consume “unhealthy” amounts of alcohol. This might be down to the “here and now” mentality of many Russians who do not plan ahead and think about their lives in the future since “life in Russia is so unpredictable” (Isupova). What is more surprising and sad is that “lack of motivation” is also one of the potential factors. Isupova argues that many elderly Russians are lacking the desire to continue living. She explains that:

“It doesn’t mean a person wants to commit suicide, she said, but they care less about their health. ‘Especially men — when they get older, they simply don’t see a role for themselves in society. Once they quit their jobs and become pensioners, they don’t know what to do with their lives,’ while women, at least, can enjoy being grandmothers, she told The Moscow Times in a phone interview.”

And, as Russia’s population ages, this lack of motivation has the potential to become even more of a problem. 

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...