Educational level and adult mortality in Russia: an analysis of routine data 1979 to 1994

Soc Sci Med. 1998 Aug;47(3):357-69. doi: 10.1016/s0277-9536(98)00096-3.


The investigation of socio-economic differences in mortality in Russia was effectively prohibited in the Soviet period. The extent and nature of any such differences is of considerable interest given the very different principles upon which Russian society has been organised for most of this century compared to the West where socio-economic differences in health have been extensively documented. Using cross-sectional data on mortality in Russia around the 1979 and 1989 Censuses, we have analysed mortality gradients according to length of education. Our results show that educational differences in mortality are at least as big as seen in Western countries, and are most similar to the recently reported differences observed for other former communist countries such as the Czech Republic, Estonia and Hungary. As observed in many other countries the strength of association of mortality with education declines with age, varies by cause of death and is generally stronger among men than women. Differentials are particularly large for accidents and violence, where for men and women the mortality rate among those with primary or basic secondary education is over twice that of people with higher education. Even larger effects are seen for causes directly related to alcohol (including alcoholic cirrhosis and accidental poisoning by alcohol), and for infectious and parasitic diseases and respiratory diseases. These educational differences may in part be related to educational differences in alcohol consumption. Of particular significance is the fact that there are indications that socio-economic differences in mortality have widened considerably in the 1990s, a period during which there was a huge increase in the national burden of alcohol-related deaths. This widening of socio-economic differences at this time suggest that these increases in consumption were especially acute among those with less education. At a more general level the fact that large educational differences in mortality were seen in Russia in 1979 and 1989, prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, is very striking and informative. In this period there was a far weaker association between income and education than is seen in the West, suggesting that the education effects are unlikely to be driven by underlying differences in financial resources. The protective effect of education, in the Russian context at least, has been driven by more subtle and mechanisms. The apparent widening of socio-economic mortality differences since the collapse of the Soviet Union suggests that the transformation underway in Russian society requires a strengthening of the public health function.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / mortality
  • Cause of Death
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality / trends*
  • Russia / epidemiology
  • Socioeconomic Factors