Friday, April 3, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Muscovites are Living Ever Longer than Other Russians, Demographers Say

Paul Goble

Vienna, April 3 – Muscovites not only live longer than other Russians, but they have increased their advantage in that regard over the last 15 years, even though the rates for both groups continue to lag far behind those in Western countries, according to data offered in the latest issue of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ journal, “Demoscope Weekly.”
At the end of the Soviet period, life expectancies in Moscow were only “insignificantly” higher than those in the Russian Federation as a whole, less than four months more in the case of men and five months more in the case of women. But since that time, “the situation in Moscow looks more favorable” given the overall declines in life expectancy for the country.
By 2005, life expectancy for men in Moscow was 7.8 years more than for the figure for Russia as a whole, and life expectancy for women in Moscow was 3.64 years more, figures that declined slightly by 2007, the last year for which such data are available to 6.6 years and 3.1 years respectively (
The demographic experts suggest that this pattern reflects the fact that Moscow as the capital was able to find “a way out of the crisis” of the 1990s “more quickly” than were other regions. And they note that even St. Petersburg lagged increasingly far behind the first capital in this regard.
In addition, the demographers point out that the lowering of mortality rates was greater among Moscow men than among Moscow women. As a result, the gender difference in life expectancy in the capital actually declined over the past 15 years, even though in Russia as a whole, it increased to unprecedented levels.
Moscow’s advantages with regard to life expectancies, the experts said, “have been connected basically with lower mortality there than elsewhere from circulatory illnesses and accidents and also, albeit to a significantly lesser extent,” with other problems such as birth defects and lung diseases (
The overall pattern of causes of mortality in Moscow is not significantly different from Russia as a whole, but the rates in Moscow are lower for all age cohorts. One exception to that pattern took place from1999 to 2007when mortality among Moscow working age males from cardiovascular diseases stabilized while the same measure for the country as a whole increased.
But these and the other differences between Muscovites and Russians as a whole are relatively small compared to the mortality differences between all Russians, on the one hand, and residents of advanced Western countries, on the other, according to the Russian demographers (
The “relatively favorable situation” with regard to mortality rates in Moscow is a reflection of the relatively higher levels of income and education of the capital’s population. The fraction of people with higher and incomplete higher education is significantly higher than the rest of the country, and the share of those with less than secondary schooling much lower.
In addition to these educational and income differences, there is a fundamental divide between access to highly qualified medical assistance “both free and paid.” In Moscow, such assistance is readily available, but in many parts of Russia, it is difficult if not impossible to find adequate medical care.
What that means, of course, the demographers say, is that the Russian government could go a long way in improving the country’s mortality figures and helping the people of the Russian Federation to catch up with the West in this regard if it invested more in medical facilities and personnel in areas far from the capital.
But there is another implication of this distinction that may be more immediately significant in political terms: Muscovites and Russians who live outside the ring road view each other increasingly suspiciously, with the former objecting to funding the latter and the latter resentful that the former won’t help them.
On some issues, like investment or housing, these differences may not be so critical, but as the demographers note, Muscovites and other Russians now “face death differently,” and that distinction, especially at a time of growing economic hardship in many regions, could trigger the kind of rage that one or another populist politician might exploit.

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