Taste for Beer May Be Saving Lives of Russian Men

Brief booze crackdown in 1980s got young men to shift away from vodka
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 18, 2016 9:36 AM CST
30 Years Later, a 'Failed' Soviet Policy May Be Saving Lives
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, center, with soccer fans in a restaurant in St. Petersburg, Russia.   (AP Photo/RIA Novosti, Yana Lapikova, Pool)

Russian men have an unfortunate tradition of drinking themselves to an early death. As bleak as the number are—life expectancy for Russian men was 65 in 2012, compared with 76 in the US and 74 for China, notes Quartz—researchers have spotted improvement of late. And oddly, they attribute it to a short-lived crackdown on booze three decades ago, one that seems to have permanently shifted a large number of men away from vodka and hard liquor to beer. As they explain in a post via Northwestern University's Kellogg Insight, it began with restrictions put into place in the Soviet Union by Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985. Among other things, he substantially raised the price of vodka, resulting in a 60% drop in sales. The cost of beer also went up, but less so, and its sales fell 29%.

The restrictions were abandoned when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, but, along with an exploding international beer market around that time, they seem to have left a lasting mark on males who came of age back then. To this day, consumers who were between 16 and 22 when the rules were in place—at least in urban areas where illicit moonshine was harder to come by—generally prefer beer over harder alcohol. Since the early 2000s, male mortality rates in Russia have dropped by about a third, and the researchers attribute 60% of that effect to this shift away from vodka. The lead researcher says it's particularly compelling that the policy most affected younger men whose preferences were still forming. "There are lots of studies showing that an intended policy didn't work at all," he says. In this case, though, it appears that for many men, it did. (In the US, craft brewers have a hops problem.)

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