This project started innocently with me showing my students around Kaggle and its treasure trove of datasets. The first dataset which struck me as at all interesting was the dataset of suicide rates (by year/country/sex/age/generation) – the dataset does not cover the whole world, but does cover the “developed” world with some additions. Anyway, ever curious to see how much more (or less) despair we are faced with, the first graph I created was that of suicide rates by year (over the whole “world”). What I got was the graph below:

I was naturally quite surprised by the spike in the mid-nineties, and after doing the “obvious” (sorting in descending order by number of suicides), the truth came out:

The top five in descending sorted order.

It became clear that the spike in suicides was due entirely to the spike in the countries of the ex-USSR and of the Warsaw Pact, and the next plot confirms this (future installments of this series will analyze the other graphs on this plot):

Historical Suicide Rates per Region

The astute reader will see that no other region exhibits the mid-nineties bulge. The data further shows that the most affected group was men from 35-54 (which, in turn, shows that the numbers are gross underestimates – the traditional suicide method in Russia has been, and remains, drinking oneself to death, and this is not reflected here at all). Even the underestimates show that the “excess” number of suicides during the 1990s were around a staggering one million people (mostly men in the prime of life). Life expectancy during this period dropped from 68 to 65 years. The population of the Russian Federation is shown in the graph below:

Population of the Russian Federation in 100s of millions

(For some black humor, consult the song below):

We see a 4% peak to trough decline (the rise from 1990 to 1996 can be explained by immigration from the republics of the Soviet Union, where nationals of Russian descent were persecuted), or a decline of some 5 million people (mostly men).

At the same time, GDP per capita (in constant 2010 US dollars [this data courtesy of the WorldBank) dropped by almost exactly a factor of two, and even now, it is only 10% higher than in 1990:

Russian GDP per capita in constant 2010 USD

While the US GDP per capita has gone up by 50% in the same period:

To summarize, an alien from Mars who did not know that the war was “cold”, would never guess it – the effects suffered by Russia were about as bad as they would have been as a result of a “real war” – millions dead, more millions leaving the country, economy in shambles. To this day, the population of women in the Russian Federation greatly exceeds that of men (just as it did for almost all of the twentieth century, due to the two world wars and an even more bloody civil war, and the “repressions”) – there was even a song about this in the sixties:

The (more or less) upward slope of the GDP and the flattening of the population curve (at least it is not collapsing), and the continuing decline of the suicide rate (which is still very high, but not 20x the US rate), interestingly coincide more or less with the reign of V. Putin. While some might argue that this is a coincidence, correlation is not causation, and so on, it should be easy to see that Putin is far from unpopular in Russia, because he is seen as having taken the country away from the brink. It should be noted while the second world war (or, as the Russians know it, the Great Patriotic War) resulted in far greater (but, note, comparable) destruction of people and property, it did NOT have the soul-destroying (and suicide promoting) aspect of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin collapse.

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