Deindustrialization and the Postsocialist Mortality Crisis

Abstract

An unprecedented mortality crisis struck Eastern Europe during the transition from socialism to capitalism. Working-class men without a college degree suffered the most. Some argue that economic dislocation caused stress and despair, leading to adverse health behavior and ill health (dislocation-despair approach). Others suggest that hazardous drinking inherited as part of a dysfunctional working-class culture and populist alcohol policy were the key determinants (supply-culture approach). We enter this debate by performing the first quantitative analysis of the association between economic dislocation in the form of industrial employment decline and mortality in postsocialist Eastern Europe. We rely on a novel multilevel dataset, fitting survival and panel models covering 52 towns and 42,800 people in 1989-1995 in Hungary and 514 medium-sized towns in the European part of Russia. The results show that deindustrialization was significantly associated with male mortality in both countries directly and indirectly mediated by adverse health behavior as a dysfunctional coping strategy. Both countries experienced severe deindustrialization, but social and economic policies seem to have offset Hungary’s more immense industrial employment loss. The policy implication is that social and economic policies addressing the underlying causes of stress and despair can improve health.

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