Explaining the "Russian Mortality Paradox"

Michel Guillot, University of Wisconsin at Madison
Natalia S. Gavrilova, University of Chicago
Tetyana Pudrovska, University of Wisconsin at Madison

In the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, ethnic Russians have exhibited higher adult mortality than native ethnic groups (Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Uzbek, etc.) in spite of their higher socio-economic status. This ethnic mortality differential has even widened since the break-up of the Soviet Union. The most common explanation for this paradox, which we term the "Russian mortality paradox", is that deaths are better reported among ethnic Russians. In this paper, we use detailed mortality data from Kyrgyzstan between 1959 and 1999 to evaluate the different explanations for the Russian mortality paradox: (1) data artifacts; (2) migration effects; (3) cultural effects. We find that the most plausible explanation is the cultural hypothesis, because the personal behaviors that generate the observed adult mortality differentials (alcohol consumption, in particular) seem to be closely tied to cultural practices. We examine the implications of this finding for understanding the health crisis in post-Soviet states.

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Presented in Session 103: Race/Ethnic Differences in Mortality