This is Not the Soviet Union, but Russia Will Still Work You to Death

Written by: Julie Schneiberg

In 2005, President Vladimir Putin announced on a televised Q&A session that the Russian people would not see a rise to the pension age so long as he was president. Fast forward thirteen years and multiple terms, Putin remains president, but he has failed to keep his promise to the Russian people. On June 14th, after his March reelection which placed Putin comfortably in power for at least another 6 year term, the United Russia party announced that they would be raising the state’s pension age– from 60 to 65 for men and from 55 to 63 for women.  Many are skeptical of his timing– the news was announced conveniently on the opening day of the 2018 World Cup which was held in Moscow. It is speculated that Putin used this event to soften the blow as a great deal of Russians were focused on the major sporting event. However, Putin’s ratings still suffered. In only two weeks, his approval ratings dropped from 77% to 63%. 

So why is this policy change such a big deal to Russians? The Stalin-era pension ages of 55 for women and 60 for men are some of the lowest in the world. However, it is important to account for the country’s life expectancy– especially for men– 1 in 10 Russian men will die before the age of 64. In some regions of rural Russia, life expectancy rates for men are just 58. While the average life expectancy for both genders is 72, it is still notably lower than other developed nations. Thus, comes the controversy that Russian men may not be able to collect their pensions in their life time– because, on average, they’ll be dead by the time they’d receive it. Often, it is in these rural areas rippled with poverty where government assistance is needed the most. 

Putin, in favor of his pension rises, has argued that these changes are necessary in order to sustain the pension system for the future. Young workers will not be able to keep up with the demand of the nation’s pensioners. Russia also has a low birth rate, something they’ve been fighting to raise in recent years with small government subsidies for families with multiple children. While these reasons should play a large role in the countries economic policies, perhaps the state should focus on the problems plaguing Russian men. For starters, alcoholism is a major contributor to the countries low life expectancy rates “There’s not 10 or a hundred things Russians should worry about changing — just those two things: drinking and smoking.” Dr. Peto said, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Oxford. Though recent measures have risen prices of alcohol and cracked-down on the black market, the death rate among men under 55 due to substance abuse is still 1 in 4. It may be more important to study the reasons why Russian men drink to such an extent and how to improve that statistic. 

Drinking has been embedded in Russian culture for as long as historians can record, and Russians, like Europeans, slowly metabolize alcohol, which prolongs hangovers and other unpleasant effects. But, the rest of Europe doesn’t have the same rates of alcohol-related deaths as Russia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the plumet of the country’s economy, drinking rates increased rapidly amid the chaos as a coping mechanism. This isn’t unique to Russia, as alcohol is used a coping mechanism all over the globe. However, easy access to the beverage and the economic depression are main contributors to the country’s recent struggle with alcoholism, especially in rural regions where we see the lowest life expectancy rates. 

Perhaps, forthgoing president Putin should focus on the country’s income inequality, which is comparable to the United States. Corruption plays a large role in the Russian state’s uber-rich, as 90% of entrepreneurs when surveyed by OPORA, a Russian business association, have encountered corruption at least once. Inequalities as such have created worsening living conditions and economic struggle for those who do not benefit from the income gap. If Putin plans of withholding pensions from Russian citizens for an additional 5-7 years perhaps he should make it a priority to reduce the corrupt state plagued with alcoholism in order to raise the life expectancy rates so the Russian people can actually receive their pensions while they are alive.