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The Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol Campaign and Russia’s Mortality Crisis

Publication Date: 
April 1, 2013

American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 5(2): 232-260, 2013 (with Jay Bhattacharya and Christina Gathmann)

Political and economic transition is often blamed for Russia's 40 percent surge in deaths between 1990 and 1994. Highlighting that increases in mortality occurred primarily among alcohol-related causes and among working-age men (the heaviest drinkers), this paper investigates an alternative explanation: the demise of the 1985-1988 Gorbachev Anti-Alcohol Campaign. Using archival sources to build a new oblast-year dataset spanning 1978-2000, we find a variety of evidence suggesting that the campaign's end explains a large share of the mortality crisis, implying that Russia's transition to capitalism and democracy was not as lethal as commonly suggested.