Igor Yefremov, a Researcher of the International Research Department of Political Demography and Macrodynamics at the Gaidar Institute, named to RBC the main factors for raising life expectancy in Russia to 78 years

On June 29, Mikhail Murashko, Minister of Health, reported at a meeting in the State Duma that life expectancy in Russia rose to 73.4 years, surpassing the pre-covid 2019 record (73.34 years).

The indicator of predicted life expectancy is one of the major ones, on which the concept of the national project “Health Care” is based. In November 2020, in the wake of the 2nd wave of the coronavirus pandemic, the Rosstat approved the Procedure for monthly calculation of the life expectancy indicator. The purpose of the new calculation was to provide an operational analysis of achieving the target of “Increasing Life Expectancy to 78 Years” by 2030. Originally, the target of 78 years was planned to be reached by 2024, however, after the onset of the pandemic this goal was pushed back in time.

“The monthly calculation of the overall life expectancy (OLE) shows the OLE for the previous 12 months rather than for the respective month, that is, in fact, a rolling annual OLE based on operational data,” Igor Yefremov explained to RBC.

As follows from the methodological explanations of Rosstat, the expected life expectancy at birth means number of years that on average a person born in the current year would have lived if the mortality rate of this year had remained unchanged until the end of his life.

Comparing the monthly figures for 2023 with the annual indicator for 2019, there is “some inaccuracy observed, since the COVID-19 pandemic in Russia began to affect mortality only from April 2020,” Igor Yefremov noted. “Although published monthly estimates of the OLE dynamics for that period are not available, based on previous OLE dynamics, the OLE immediately prior to the pandemic in Russia can be approximately estimated at 73.4-73.5 years,” said the expert. These factors prove that “OLE indicator at birth has probably come very close to the pre-pandemic level, but still has not passed it yet,” Yefremov concluded.

Moreover, the monthly figure is published by Rosstat without a breakdown by sex. “The specifics of underreporting of male mortality currently suggest that the OLE among females in Russia has exceeded the pre-pandemic level, while male OLE has not. This is also confirmed by the dynamics of the 2022 OLE recovery reflected in the annual data: growth of female OLE was much greater there compared to growth of male OLE,” the expert explained. Over the pandemic years 2020-2021 the birth rate dropped by almost 3.3 years amid the so-called excess mortality due to COVID-19, although previously the rate had been increasing every year since 2003.

“The OLE reversion to near pre-pandemic figures happened primarily due to the solution of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made a crucial contribution to the decline in OLE in Russia in 2020-2021 and was also reflected in OLE for 2022,” Yefremov said.

Igor Yefremov emphasized that one of the most important reasons for growing OLE since the 2000s has been intergenerational changes in the lifestyle and health of Russians. “Younger generations of Russians follow a healthier lifestyle than older generations in the past. Accordingly, with natural generational change there is a gradual process of promoting lower mortality at older ages and an increase in OLE at those ages,” he explained, adding that this major process “probably continued even during the pandemic.”

“On the one hand, persistence of this intergenerational progress gives reason to hope that OLE will continue to grow. On the other hand, since the beginning of the pandemic, some evidence suggests that progress in reducing alcohol consumption and smoking prevalence, which had been contributing enormously to the growth of OLE in recent years, has stopped. Growth in alcohol and tobacco consumption can significantly slow down growth of OLE in Russia, as it has happened many times in the past,” Yefremov believes.