Économie et Statistique n° 383-384-385 - Approaches to Poverty: the Test of International Comparisons
Living conditions and poverty in Russia
Russia has a unique contemporary history, full of political and economic changes. A couple of serious economic crises recently (1992 and 1998) have drastically cut living standards (by half in 1992). The demographic situation sums up the current state of crisis, but one that has recently shown signs of improvement. Life expectancy for men is now just 58.8 years, down five years from 1990. For women, it is now 72 years, two years less than a dozen years ago. Infant mortality is still high compared with Western European countries, although it is steadily falling. The population is showing a downward trend. High divorce rates and children living with their parents to solve the problems of scarce housing explain the high frequency of lone parent families and complex households. The transition to the market economy disrupted the labour market. Yet the rise in unemployment has been offset by a decrease in recent years and the current rate of 7.9% is lower than found in other transition countries due to a policy of reducing real wages to prevent potential unemployment. One consequence of galloping inflation from 1991 to 2001 is that the average real wage in 2004 was barely over half that in 1991. The deviation is smaller across earnings as a whole, which have benefited from the recent upturn: in 2004, average earnings stood at 83% of their 1991 level. Over half of the budget is now spent on food. Even though the relative weight of social benefits has risen slightly in the current climate of budgetary restrictions, access to health care and education is not guaranteed for all. This drop in earnings has been accompanied by an increase in inequality and poverty: lone parent families, large families and seniors are faced with particularly disadvantageous living conditions, especially in the small towns. This is a sign of the growing polarisation between Moscow and the provincial towns, especially the smallest of them.