STUMP » Articles » Mortality Angle of the Russian/Ukrainian Conflict: Bad Even Before Pandemic » 27 February 2022, 12:24

Where Stu & MP spout off about everything.

Mortality Angle of the Russian/Ukrainian Conflict: Bad Even Before Pandemic  


27 February 2022, 12:24

While everybody is gearing up to become geopolitical experts, which I definitely am not, I am going to talk about something I do know quite a bit about — the hideous mortality of Russian, and similarly bad Ukrainian mortality.

As I’ve mentioned before, I know the what, but I don’t necessarily know the why.

I will be linking older posts on bad Russian mortality at the end of this piece. On the substack version of this post, I will share my spreadsheets.

Male mortality in Russia and Ukraine is awful

Here you go — stretching back to 1959, the Soviet era, the period life expectancy from birth for males:

I could caveat all this with “be careful of compressing a bunch of mortality info into a single number”, but here, I don’t feel like caveating anything. These are awful trends. There’s nothing to caveat. Yes, Ukraine’s life expectancy is a little bit higher, but these numbers are awful, and yes, there was a cratering of male life expectancy after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

I will note that there was a general slide from the early 1960s until the early 1980s… a run-up for some reason (falsifying data?), and then absolute cratering. That’s just hideous.

Dropping about 5 years over a 5-year period is a horrible decrease.

There has been a recovery since 2004, but that life expectancy is still very low compared to other European countries, even other Eastern European countries, as we’ll see below.

Female mortality in Russia and Ukraine – not quite so bad, but not good

Let’s check out what happened with females:

Now, this is not a great trend, either, but it’s not as hideous as the male trend. It was kind of level during the Soviet period, while male life expectancy was slowly decreasing… had a slight increase in the 80s when male mortality also increased… and had its own cratering. We’re also seeing a recovering since 2004, as with the males in Russia.

But we’ve seen both Ukrainian and Russian males and females see improving mortality since 2004, approximately. Yes, the data stop about 2014 in this data set, which I had from

Comparing against nearby countries and other ex-Soviet states

However, that’s just looking at Russia and Ukraine in isolation. How does it look compared to the other ex-Soviet states (that I can get data for) and for the nearby countries of Finland an Poland?

Here it is for males:

And for females:

It may not be fair to throw Finland in there, but if the excuse is hard-drinking and being northerly, Finland has that in excess, and they are beating all those other countries in life expectancy. So that’s not the difference.

Note that all the ex-Soviet states except Russia and Ukraine also had the post-USSR fall from 1989-1994… but started their mortality improvement in 1994, as opposed to a decade later.

Poland started doing well the moment communism went away. Isn’t that interesting?

But I want to note that Ukraine and Russia are lagging the comparable countries hugely. To be sure, Russia is huge, and includes Siberia, which is not the most congenial of locations. But Ukraine doesn’t have the excuse of Siberia.

Both places, in short, suck when it comes to mortality.

Another metric: survivorship to age 65

Period life expectancy is one metric to gauge mortality levels. Another is probability of surviving to age 65 (using period mortality tables).

This time, I’m using Our World in Data graphs, and they use World Bank data sets. I’m being nasty and comparing against the U.S. and Japan so you can really see how bad this is.

Let me do female first this time:

Well, the probability is better than the world average, so, okay. But that includes Africa, where mortality isn’t fabulous.

Now male:

60%. That’s hideous.

Somebody tried to claim this was about health care access, but y’all.

If you’re dying at that rate, in an area not known for tropical diseases, then no, it’s not due to health care access.

It’s due to behavior.

It’s due to drinking yourself to death. It’s due to overdosing. If you’re dying of a heart attack at age 50, it’s because of really freaky genetics or because you’re smoking 3 packs a day.

The U.S. does not have universal healthcare access before age 65, and we manage to get 80% of men living to age 65, even with our generally crappy lifestyles. So think about how much worse it must be in Russia and Ukraine.

Huge sex gaps in mortality in Russia and Ukraine

The reason I didn’t use most of the displays from Our World in Data is that they showed a sex-blended life expectancy, which didn’t show the awful male life expectancy results. Russia and Ukraine have some of the largest sex gaps in mortality I’ve seen in countries (maybe I’ll do a ranking on that later.)

People may posit why that is — economic hardships in the post-Soviet era, a deeply corrupt society, violence, political upheaval, all sorts of problems. Well, I don’t know why.

Maybe it’s mainly due to vodka, and the women simply drink less.

Dying, Fast and Slow

I often think in terms of what can kill you fast and what kills you slowly, and in some of these situations it looks like an increase in “things that kill fast”.

Vodka in enough volume can kill very rapidly.

The American way of death, which is to get fat and sit staring at a screen, is a slow way to die.

We obviously have a fast-killing situation in Ukraine right now. I assume the male-female mortality gap may get worse.

Prior posts on Russians and mortality:

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