When will Russian men live as long as Brazilian men?
A Russian baby boy born today can expect to live 59 years and four months. That is two months longer than a baby boy born in Haiti.
By contrast, a boy born in Brazil can expect to enjoy almost an extra decade of life – for a total of 68 years and 11 months.
Twenty years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is now at the bottom of the BRICs, the economic group that includes Brazil, Russia, India and China.
An Indian baby boy’s life expectancy, for example, is 67 years six months.
A Chinese baby boy’s life expectancy is 71 years and seven months.
I was back in Brazil recently, after a 16 year absence.
Take Saturday night at Pacha, a Florianopolis nightclub hopping with 1,000 young people, including my three college student sons.
On entering, I wrestled with a strange word “chapelaria” – vaguely familiar from a different century. It meant hat check. In modern, Brazil this is where guys and their dates check their motorcycle helmets. Starting 1997, it is obligatory for everyone on a motorcycle to wear a helmet. In Russia, helmet and seatbelt laws are still widely seen as infringements on personal freedoms. Check one for Brazilian male longevity rates.
Inside Pacha, the awful techno music and prima donna Australian DJ were compensated by skimpy female attire – and clean air. In 2009, Brazil’s three largest states banned smoking in enclosed public areas – legalese for what Brazilians call bars and restaurants. Many major cities, like Florianopolis, a booming resort and high tech capital, followed suit. At Pacha, the only smoking took place on the outdoor terraces, under the winter stars of the Southern hemisphere.
When I left Brazil, in 1995, 35 percent of Brazilian adults smoked. Today, 15 percent do. About 20 percent of Brazilian men smoke. Compare that to Russia, where surveys indicate about 70 percent of men smoke. Check two for Brazilian longevity rates.
On leaving Pacha at 5 a.m. (son James’ request), I was struck by the traffic. A long line of late model cars streamed down a highway for breakfast beach parties (some things never change in Brazil). Had this been Rio in the 1980s, half of the cars would have been crossing the double yellow line, flashing lights, and blowing horns. This time, no one tried to pass, no one speeded, and everyone in front seats seemed to wearing seat belts. In recent years, Brazil has installed thousands of highway radar checks, backed up by a computerized point system to penalize bad drivers.
The result: Brazil has a highway fatality rate of 18.3 per 100,000 inhabitants per year, well below Russia’s rate of 25.2. Check three for male longevity rates.
The impact of the post-Soviet privatization of Russia’s health system can be everywhere. Currently, 30 percent of male military draftees are rejected for poor health. Russian athletes increasingly fare poorly in international competitions. Although Russia has the world’s largest population living in snow and ice zones, Russia did not place among the top 10 nations for gold medals at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. Last month, at the International Ice Hockey Championship in Slovakia, Russia did not even win a bronze.
Optimism has long been the cliché trait of Brazilians. Brazil is the country of the future – and (the joke went) always will. But on my return to Brazil, I picked up something I had not heard of before: lots of Brazilians are moving back from the U.S. to Brazil, where they see more economic opportunity.
Pessimism hangs over many Russians. Since the economic crisis of fall 2008, about 1.25 million Russians are estimated to have emigrated, a number comparable to the exodus immediately after the October, 1917 revolution.
Just as voting with one’s feet is a statement on faith in the future, having babies is another statement on belief in the future.
In 1991, when communism collapsed in the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation had 148.6 million people, about 2 million people more than Brazil.
In the 20 years since, Russia’s population has shrunk by 4 percent or 6 million. Brazil’s population has increased by 30 percent – or 44 million people, to 192 million today.
And, as noted at the outset, these new Brazilians are expected to live longer, healthier lives than Russians.
Many Russians look down on Brazil as an upstart nation.
Maybe an intra-BRIC health check can serve as a reality check.