Divergent paths for adult mortality in Russia and Central Asia: evidence from Kyrgyzstan

Michel Guillot, University of Pennsylvania
Natalia S. Gavrilova, University of Chicago

A puzzling pattern of mortality trends in former Soviet Central Asian republics is that the mortality increases recorded in these republics after the break-up of the Soviet Union have not been as severe as in Russia. For example, in Kyrgyzstan, life expectancy at birth declined by 3.3 years between 1990 and 1995 (from 68.8 to 65.5 years), while in Russia during the same period, it declined by 4.6 years (from 69.3 to 64.7 years). Moreover, the gap in life expectancy between Russia and Kyrgyzstan has increased in recent years, at the advantage of Kyrgyzstan. This is puzzling to many observers because the economic crisis has been more severe in Central Asian republics. In 1990, the gross national income per capita in Russia was about 6.5 times greater than in Kyrgyzstan. In 2008, it was about 13 times greater. Russia, a much more developed country than Kyrgyzstan, exhibits lower life expectancy. In this paper, we take advantage of unpublished official mortality data from one Central Asian republic, Kyrgyzstan, to examine the reasons for this divergence. We focus on adult ages (20-59), a critical age range for understanding mortality fluctuations in post-Soviet states. We reconstruct for the first time a consistent time series of age-specific death rates by sex and cause in Kyrgyzstan for the period 1980-2007, paying particular attention to possible data quality problems. We then perform a cause-specific decomposition to understand the causes of death that explain the changes in adult mortality in Kyrgyzstan during the period. Finally, we examine the difference between adult mortality in Kyrgyzstan and Russia, and perform a cause-specific decomposition of this difference and how it changed over time. Results are interpreted in view of the respective social, economic and cultural contexts of Russia vs. Kyrgyzstan.

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Presented in Session 3: Comparative perspectives on health and mortality of national populations

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