It can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint the exact life expectancy of the average Russian because there are many conflicting figures available.
What is known is that these figures have varied greatly in the last ten years and at one point, Russia was second only to Iraq in the table of lowest life expectancies. There have been some signs of recovery but the country as a whole is still far behind its European counterparts.
The last available figures were released in 2010 and the consensus is that the average life expectancy for men is just over 63 years while for women, the calculations come in at just under 75.
Contrast that with Germany for example where the average life expectancy for men is around 77 years.
There are many reasons why Russia lags behind much of the rest of the world in this respect but there has been a steady improvement in overall life expectancy in recent years.
While the figures for women are fairly consistent with other European countries, it’s the male statistics that are the most alarming and therein lies the clue as to why life expectancy for the average Russian man is so low.
And the main reason for these figures is alcoholism.
Cheap Vodka = Early death
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990’s alcoholism was rife. Life for the average Russian under Soviet rule had become miserable and with work and money available only to the privileged few, many Russian men turned to the bottle.
Vodka was plentiful and it was cheap: Just 15 roubles would buy you a bottle of homemade vodka and many Russians would easily get through a bottle on a daily basis. In other countries around the world where cheap, unregulated alcohol had become a problem, restrictions were put in place and prices were lifted but in Russia, the issue carried on unchecked.
In some remote Russian villages, the male population had all been wiped out. The vodka issue was an almost exclusively male problem and as a result, women were outnumbering men by an alarming ratio.
At its lowest point, life expectancy for the average Russian male was hovering at around the 56 year mark. Finally, on the 1st of January 2010, restrictions were introduced on the price of vodka in an attempt to redress the alarming situation.
As President Dmitry Medvedev called the problem of alcoholism a “national disgrace“, the minimum price for a bottle of vodka was set at 89 roubles. Vodka was still cheap, but slowly the measures seemed to have an effect.
For the first time in many years, the Russian population is actually growing and while there is work to be done, the first signs of a steady climb in overall life expectancy are starting to show.
It’s impossible to overstate the effect that alcoholism has on Russian life expectancy and while these entrenched habits can’t be broken overnight, Medvedev’s restrictions are starting to take hold at least.