Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Russia, Population, Alcoholism, and Associated Mortality Rates

I have been watching with some interest the developments in Russia lately.  In particular, this perfect storm that is brewing in Russia between annexation of Ukraine's Crimea, the sanctions to counter this action by the Western Developed Nation, and the plummeting prices of oil.

During this brief period of 2014 we have already seen the exodus of massive amounts of capital from Russia resulting in the plummeting in the value of the Rouble (nearly 50%), the skyrocketing interest rates (currently 17%), and massive inflation (currently 11.4%), the decline in oil revenues (more than 50%), and the embargo on importation of western goods into Russia, just to mention a few items.

Today, I understand that Russia has now reduced the price of vodka.  I suppose this is to allow the citizenry to drown themselves in a drunken stupor so that they do not see what is going on economically.  But, I also recall that Russia has been struggling with a huge alcoholism problem for years.  So, I decided to look into this a little deeper.  I have decided to compare what is going on in Russia on this issue as compared to the US.

First, population.  Since Russia did not exist as a country before 1989 I am including here only information since about that date. Results are stated in millions.

Year                Russia                 US                Notes

1990                148.5                 249.6  
2000               140.7                 282.2
2010                141.8                 309.3       CIA estimate for Russia is 138.7
2014                142.5                 318.3        Population of annexed Crimea not
                                                                      included.  Currently, birth rate has
                                                                      declined and death rate has

Next, alcoholism.

I have read that alcoholism is and has been a substantial problem in Russia.  There was a campaign in the late 1980s to reduce alcohol consumption in the country.  That resulted in a  tremendous decrease in the mortality rate.  I have seen charts showing alcoholism rates fluctuating between 20% and 40% during the post Soviet years.  In recent years there was another attempt to reduce alcoholism.  Estimates of 500,000 deaths per year are reported for Russia in the very recent past. This puts the current rate of alcoholism at about 20%.  The equivalent number for the US is put at 88,000 deaths per year.

Since the Russian population is only 44.8% of the US population (2014), the equivalent number of deaths for Russia to have the same death rate from alcoholism would be 39,400.  Since Russia experiences a rate of 500,000, that means that the death rate in Russia is 12.69 times greater.
If the alcoholism rate for Russia were to increase once again to around 40% as has been the case in the not too distant past, then it might be reasonable to expect as many as 1,000,000 deaths per year attributable to alcoholism.  This would be a death rate exceeding 25 times the rate in the US.

Russia has been struggling to have its population increase.  As the population decreases, the number of working age citizens is also decreasing.  This makes economic growth difficult to impossible. I also can't imagine that a 40% alcoholism rate would add to productivity either.  According to one recent article, "Life expectancy of a Russian man was roughly 65 years in 2012, compared with 76 years for the US and 74 for China."  This does not make for a great economic future for Russia.
An article in World Affairs in the Spring of 2009 entitled "Drunken Nation: Russia's Depopulation Bomb" points to a very bleak future for the former Communist nation.

If you are interested in this subject I suggest your read the Wikipedia article "Alcohol Consumption in Russia".  While it has a lot of good information, it is somewhat out of date.

So, the question is -- Given the above information, what is the first major shoe to drop, so to speak?
I would enjoy hearing your ideas.  If you have any more specific information regarding the information I have presented I would like to hear from you also.

revised 9/1/15


  1. A very interesting piece, indeed. Is Russia destined to the backwaters of industrialized nations? I don't see a way out for them with this confluence of factors weighing them down.

  2. An interesting article appeared in May, 2015 indicating that while the sales of legal vodka have gone down, this is an indication that consumers are turning to moonshine and other more dangerous forms of alcohol to satisfy their hunger for their habits. See

  3. In a news article, the Russian Interior Ministry has just issued a pamphlet warning of the dangers of the selfie. "According to the Ministry, more than 100 people have been injured and about 10 people killed while trying to take a photo of themselves since the beginning of the year." See for more details.
    I guess if alcoholism doesn't do it, then narcissism might just finish them off.