New research suggests that the wholesale privatisation of public assets that took place after the collapse of the Soviet Union may have caused as many as a million male deaths.
During the early 1990s, adult mortality rates rose in most post-communist European countries but the researchers noted substantial differences across countries and over time which remained unexplained.
Following the break up of the old Soviet regime, at least a quarter of large state-owned enterprises were transferred to the private sector in just two years. This programme of mass privatisation was associated with a 56% increase in unemployment and a 12.8% increase in deaths.
The researchers conclude that as many as one million working-age men died due to the economic shock of mass privatisation policies.
Writing in The Lancet in January, the researchers say: ‘The policy implications are clear. Great caution should be taken when macroeconomic policies seek radically to overhaul the economy without considering potential effects on the population’s health.
‘The death rate was already high in the old Soviet Union, as the healthcare system was inadequate, while rates of smoking and alcohol use were high, and diets poor.
‘This was compounded as the unemployment rate began to rise as workers suffered from uncertainty and stress. Not only does stress have a direct effect on health, it is also closely associated with unhealthy lifestyles, such as alcoholism. Together this raises the risk of heart disease and strokes, as well as mental illness.
‘(In the Soviet Union) the workplace also tended to provide what healthcare was available, along with social support. People got everything from work - and when they lost their jobs all that just went.’
The link between male unemployment and male mortality is already well-known. This new research illustrates just how dangerous the link can be.