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Presentation to the Program on the Global Demography of Aging, Harvard School of Public Health. Reassessing the Standard of Living in the Soviet Union: An Analysis Using Archival and Anthropometric Data. Betsy Brainerd January 29, 2007.
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Presentation to the Program on the Global Demography of Aging, Harvard School of Public Health Reassessing the Standard of Living in the Soviet Union: An Analysis Using Archival and Anthropometric Data Betsy Brainerd January 29, 2007
“The greatest failed experiment in the history of the human race.” -- Joel Mokyr on the Soviet Union
Did the standard of living improve in the Soviet Union in the postwar period? • GNP grew in every decade • But know little about standard of living: little data; some unfavorable trends • Important: our judgment of the Soviet growth model depends in part on whether growth translated into improved well-being for the population as a whole
This paper: • Examines alternative measures of well-being: birth weights; child and adult heights; infant and adult mortality • Useful supplement to traditional measures of living standards, especially where economic data is of poor quality and reliability • Previously unexploited data sources
Outline: • Introduction and motivation • Related literature • Previous assessments of GNP growth and consumption in the USSR • New data sources • Trends in height, birth weight, and mortality • Hypotheses • Conclusions and further work
Related literature: • Economic history: heights and the ‘antebellum puzzle’ in the US; ‘early industrial growth puzzle’ in Europe • Comparative economics: reassessments of Soviet growth (Robert Allen on 1928-1940 period) • Archival research in Soviet economics and history: Paul Gregory and Mark Harrison, J. Econ Lit Sept. 2005 • Russian mortality crisis of 1990s
Conventional measures of growthin the Soviet Union “The fundamental problem in evaluating Soviet growth is data quality.” -- Easterly and Fischer, 1994
Problems with Soviet economic statistics • Strong incentives for overreporting output • Methodological differences between Soviet and western national income accounting practices • Selective publication of data • Shortages; poor quality of goods; lack of market prices • Growing underground economy
Estimates of national income growth in the Soviet Union,1928 – 1985 (annual rates of growth)
Comparisons of Soviet and Western economic performance, 1950 – 1980(annual rates of growth)
New data sources • Data on infant and adult mortality from the Soviet archives: by region, urban/rural, age and sex (adult mortality) for 1959, 1970 and 1979 • Additional (limited) archival and published data on wages, health care infrastructure, food and alcohol consumption • Anthropometric data: birth weights and child heights across regions, 1910s - present; adult heights from the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey
Advantages of anthropometric and mortality data: • More objective measures of well-being than economic growth or consumption • Not affected by data problems inherent in more conventional measures • Take into account that some economic activity is non-monetized
Insights from anthropometric data • Adult height is a cumulative measure of nutritional status in infancy and childhood; measures net nutrition • Fogel and others: height can provide a wealth of information on living standards; height and income highly correlated • At the population level nearly all differences in average height are due to environmental influences: can compare stature across countries and over time
Soviet Anthropometric Data (1) Child height data: • Most collected by the Semashko Inst. of Public Health from 1920s to present • 59 Russian regions and most USSR republics • Collected in preschools and schools; at least 100 children of each sex age each age (n = 165 on average) • Underlying RSFSR data represent average heights of over 470,000 children • Average child heights converted into percentiles of US growth standards, from (old) standard US growth charts
Soviet Anthropometric Data, cont. Possible problems with child height data: • Researchers sometimes excluded children with “defects” and chronic illnesses • Urban areas sampled more frequently; urban stature is greater on average than rural stature • Surveys not representative of USSR or RSFSR • If better-off children more likely to go to school, will over-estimate heights (schooling became compulsory in 1958)
Height of children in urban centers of the RSFSRby year of birth as a percentile of U.S. standards, boys age 9
Is This Real? Soviet Anthropometric Data, cont. (2) Adult height data: • Corroborating evidence: Average stature of male military recruits born 1906 – 1910 was 167.5 cm, the 8th percentile of the U.S. height standard for 18-year old boys • Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey, 1994 – 2004: • Measurement of adult height (not self-reported) by exact date of birth • 5,476 men and 5,771 women age 22 – 55 (birth years 1939 – 1982) • Problems: small sample; does not cover whole period of interest
Other Evidence • Infant mortality rates: • Very high pre-WWII • Significant decline 1945 – 1970 • No improvement 1970 – 1980, with worsening between 1970 and 1975
Other Evidence, cont. • Life expectancy at birth: • Substantial increases between 1940 and early 1960s; nearly equal to that of U.S. by 1965 • Worsening life expectancy began around 1965 • By 1980: gap between Russian and U.S. life expectancy: • 8.5 years for men • 4.3 years for women • Occurred in all other USSR republics
Male Life Expectancy at Birth, 1958 - 2001 U.S. Belarus Lithuania Estonia Ukraine Russia
Inequality in stature: how were the gains distributed across the population? Coefficients from regressions of height on exact date of birth, converted into cm. Bold coefficients are statistically significant at the 1 percent level or less. Bootstrapped SEs.
What caused the improvement and subsequent stagnation in population health status? • Possible explanations for improvement: • Development and expansion of national health care system; particularly effective at controlling infectious diseases • Significant increases in female education • Improvement in caloric and nutrient content of the food supply • Urbanization (clean water, sewers, heat, etc.)
Possible causes, cont. • Possible explanations for stagnation/decline: • Changes in diet; poor agricultural harvests • Increase in alcohol consumption • Increase in military expenditures crowding out domestic consumption • Increased macroeconomic imbalances leading to decreased availability of consumer goods
Correlates of log change in infant mortality rates, RSFSR regions, 1959 – 1989 (stacked) Other controls: crude birth rate; large region; decade (1970-1979, 1980-1989; 1959 – 1970 is omitted decade).
Conclusion: Did the standard of living rise or fall in the Soviet Union in the postwar period? • Given poor quality of GNP data, trends portrayed by stature and death rates may be more believable than GNP growth • Conventional measures of GNP growth and consumption indicate a long, upward climb in living standards 1950-1989 • Corroborated for 1950 – 1970 by increasing child and adult heights, declining IMR and rising life expectancy at birth
Conclusion, cont. • But evidence of deteriorating living conditions in the mid- to late-1960s: • declining male life expectancy • rising infant mortality, even in regions with reliable vital event data • stagnation or decrease in child heights; • slight decline or stagnation in height of men and women born in early 1970s • Underlying reasons for these trends are inconclusive, but may include: • expansion of national health system • increased education • declining availability of consumer goods • increased alcohol consumption
Implications and further research • More data on food and alcohol consumption, tobacco use • Effect of abortion legalization on child and parent/adult outcomes • Effect of Chernobyl on child well-being • Are deteriorating living conditions of the 1970s related to current high mortality levels in Russia?