The Dying Russians

russia depopulation


Russia is facing the longest depopulation crisis since World War II (when almost 30 million people in the then-Soviet Union perished in war efforts against NAZI Germany), with 7 million of them ‘disappearing’ in statistics since its beginning of post-Soviet rule in 1991. While Russia’s economy, for all its inherent problems, is relatively stable, its incomes significantly rising along with a thriving middle class, and its healthcare slightly better than some of its ex-Soviet counterparts, people keep dying for some mysterious reasons.

Masha Gessen attempts to find out the answer in New York Review of Books. Read her full explanation here.




In the seventeen years between 1992 and 2009, the Russian population declined by almost seven million people, or nearly 5 percent—a rate of loss unheard of in Europe since World War II. Moreover, much of this appears to be caused by rising mortality. By the mid-1990s, the average St. Petersburg man lived for seven fewer years than he did at the end of the Communist period; in Moscow, the dip was even greater, with death coming nearly eight years sooner.

In 2006 and 2007, Michelle Parsons, an anthropologist who teaches at Emory University and had lived in Russia during the height of the population decline in the early 1990s, set out to explore what she calls “the cultural context of the Russian mortality crisis.” Her method was a series of long unstructured interviews with average Muscovites—what amounted to immersing herself in a months-long conversation about what made life, for so many, no longer worth living. The explanation that Parsons believes she has found is in the title of her new book, Dying Unneeded.

Parsons chose as her subjects people who were middle-aged in the early 1990s. Since she conducted her interviews in Moscow over a decade later, the study has an obvious structural handicap: her subjects are the survivors, not the victims, of the mortality crisis—they didn’t die—and their memories have been transformed by the intervening years of social and economic upheaval. Still, what emerges is a story that is surely representative of the experience of a fair number of Russians.