Males in post-Communist nations dying sooner

Men-women ratio falling as a result, study finds


UNITED NATIONS -- Across many of the post-Communist countries of the former Soviet Union and in parts of Eastern Europe, the ratio of men to women is falling, the United Nations says in a new report, because men in those countries are leading shorter and less healthy lives.

These countries are paying "a high social and human cost for their transition to a market economy," the U.N. Development Program says in its report on the former Communist countries of the Soviet Union and the old Soviet bloc. The most striking feature has been "the loss of lives among young and middle-aged men, which is reflected in an abnormally low ratio of men to women across the region."

The causes, the report says, "include rising suicide rates, declining life expectancy, poor health care and an increase in self-destructive behavior [such as] drug and alcohol abuse and crime."

Taking as a standard of comparison the ratio of 96 men to every 100 women in Britain and Japan, the report calculates that there are 9.6 million "missing men" in the countries of the region.

The explanation lies partly in a recent decline in men's life expectancy in many of the countries. The life expectancy of Russian men has fallen by four years since 1980, to 58 years, 10 fewer than in China. Life expectancy has also declined in Ukraine, Belarus and Armenia, as well as in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria.

The report also points to a decline in overall birth rates and high mortality rates in almost all the countries surveyed, which it attributes to reduced living standards, increased insecurity and unemployment, and the deterioration in social services, including health services, since communism's fall.

These factors have also resulted in a sharp increase in the number of suicides. Since 1989, the suicide rate in Russia has risen 60 percent, in Latvia 95 percent, and in Lithuania 80 percent.

"The transition to a market economy has thus been accompanied by a demographic collapse and a rise in self-destructive behavior, especially among men," the report concludes.

As further evidence of the high cost of making the transition to a market economy, the report says the number of people in the region living on an income as little as $4 a day rose to 32 percent of the population in 1994, from 4 percent in 1988.

Pub Date: 8/01/99

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