Soviet Union Table of Contents
Between 1970 and 1986, the mortality rate in the Soviet Union increased from 8.2 per 1,000 to 9.8 per 1,000. Some of this increase was attributable to the aging of the population, as the number of old-age (fifty-five for women, sixty for men) pensioners grew from 36.5 million to 47.4 million. Other factors, however, contributed to this upswing, one of the most disturbing of which was an increase in the mortality of infants and able-bodied men. The male mortality increase was highlighted by the almost ten-year differential in male and female life expectancies. Intense urbanization and the attendant pressures of living and working in an urban environment undoubtedly exacerbated the mortality rate. As in most developed countries, the leading causes of death in the Soviet Union were cardiovascular diseases, malignant tumors, and injuries and accidents. Suicide cases in 1987 were officially recorded at 54,105, or 19.1 per 100,000 population.
Under Gorbachev a concerted effort has been made to reduce mortality and improve productivity. The government initiated active campaigns to limit the number of deaths from accidents and chronic degenerative diseases by drastically curtailing the availability of alcohol and by attempting to persuade the more than 70 million (in 1986 about 25 percent of the population) smokers to renounce the habit. The overall health of the population, the state of Soviet health care, and the environment became recurrent topics of open discussion and debate. By 1986 these measures seemed to be having some effect: one year was added to average male life expectancy, and mortality started to decline. Some Soviet demographers stressed, however, that long-term improvements would only be ensured by focusing on four factors that they believed to be major determinants of the level of mortality: the quality of life, including working and living conditions, nutrition, and clothing; the quality of the environment; the quality and accessibility of health care; and the people's sanitary and hygienic habits.
In the 1970-78 intercensal period, overall fertility rates in the Soviet Union declined slightly. Regionally, however, there were sharp differences. In Soviet Central Asia, for example, women consistently expected to have at least twice as many children as their counterparts in the European part of the Russian Republic. The Caucasus region registered rates between these two extremes. The government addressed the issue of declining fertility by enacting a series of measures in the late 1970s and early 1980s aimed at making it easier for women to cope with the onerous burden of being mother, wife, and worker (see Population Problems and Policies , this ch.; Role of Women , ch. 5).
Data as of May 1989