Is the following graph of male life expectancy of ex-Soviet states spanning Chernobyl accurate?

Life expectancy graph, with text in Japanese

The source of the graph is a blog post (チェルノブイリ事故後の平均寿命), which according to google translate means "Life expectancy after the Chernobyl accident".

According to someone who showed this to me, the title of the graph is "Former Soviet Union Nations". Acquamarine is Ukraine, red is Russia, green is Belarus, yellow is Uzbekistan, and purple is Kazakhstan.

By accurate, at a minimum I mean "the data has not been fabricated by anti-nuclear activists". Ideally, this'd also mean "the data has not been manipulated by the government, and is reasonably accurate", but maybe that's too much to ask.

I was skeptical of this graph because the best alternative explanation I had for the fall in life expectancy was the collapse of the Soviet Union, and going from a dictatorship to a democracy being associated with a lowering of life expectancy was somewhat counter-intuitive to me.

Related question: Have several hundreds of thousands of people died because of the Chernobyl disaster? - the loss of life described in the accepted answer would probably not cause the dramatic decline in Russian life expectancy shown in this graph.

  • 5
    "going from a dictatorship to a democracy being associated with a lowering of life expectancy was somewhat counter-intuitive to me",-- it's rather country going bankrupt and then recovering. And it the beginning of the transformation it's 19th-century-style anarcho-capitalism, which wasn't known for best life expectancy either.
    – vartec
    Nov 9, 2012 at 13:20
  • Note that Russia fought two wars with Chechnya: 1994-1996, and 1999-2000 (with a so-called insurgent phase from 2000-2009)
    – horatio
    Nov 9, 2012 at 15:33
  • 1
    BTW, Russia is not the most affected by radiation fallout from Chernobyl. Ukraine and Belarus were muc more severely affected, while countries like Finland, Sweden, Austria were affected in greater percentage of their area and population (you have to remember, that Russia is huge).
    – vartec
    Nov 12, 2012 at 9:55
  • Correlation, causation, etc....
    – user5341
    Nov 28, 2012 at 22:39

3 Answers 3


Graph is accurate, but the conclusion is not. Unless you'd want to argue that radiation causes violence, rather than cancer.

As you can see, during the fall of the Soviet Union there is huge increase in male violent deaths. However, cancer (neoplasms) rates remain practically flat.

Mortality rates by cause:

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Mortality rate by homicide:

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Source: "Mortality in Europe: the Divergence Between East and West" by France Meslé and Jacques Vallin

Another thing that speaks against the radiation, is the fact, that the drop in life expectancy does not correlate with the fallout.

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In the graph quoted in the original question, the life expectancy drop is less significant in Belarus and Ukraine, which were more affected, and more significant in Kazakhstan, which wasn't affected at all.

  • 15
    As comic books have repeatedly demonstrated, radiation is one way to create super villains and animal monsters. Super villain and monster rampages kill lots of people violently. Therefor radiation causes a massive increase in violent deaths. Nov 9, 2012 at 14:05
  • @DanNeely Hulk smash!
    – Shauna
    Nov 9, 2012 at 14:31
  • 1
    @DanNeely: as documented here ;-)
    – vartec
    Nov 9, 2012 at 14:33
  • 1
    Try AP for " drinking, which the report says roughly doubled in Russia between 1987 and 1994 — from the equivalent of about 5 liters (1.3 gallons) of pure alcohol annually to about 10.5 liters (2.8 gallons)" and "drinking caused more than half of deaths among Russians aged 15 to 54 in the turbulent era following the Soviet collapse".
    – Henry
    Nov 9, 2012 at 17:44
  • 1
    Looking at the graph for Russia from '86 to the peaks, the approximate increase in deaths per 10,000 people were: Infectious: about 4; Neo: about 8; Cardio: about 25; Other: about 4; Violent deaths: about 12 (assuming that includes homicides). Thus, the total increase for all categories is about 53 per 10,000, for which violent deaths only amount to 23% of the increase (or 28% if homicides were separate from violent deaths). We need more info to determine what of the remaining 77% increase is caused by Chernobyl (weakening immune systems?), alcohol, revolution, or something else.
    – Briguy37
    Nov 9, 2012 at 19:13

The following graph from Wikipedia shows Russian life expectancy for males and females.

Russian life expectancy from Wikipedia

It shows a decline in male life expectancy from a peak of just under 65, to 57 and a bit, consistent with the initial graph. As that was the most striking feature of the graph, I doubt that the graph was fabricated by anti-nuclear activists.

However, it is interesting to note that they only graphed male life expectancy. Male life expectancy dropped by almost 8 years, whereas female life expectancy dropped by less than four years. Deliberately choosing male life expectancy could be cherry-picking on the part of the anti-nuclear activists.


I don't beleive this graph shows any correlation with Chernobyl disaster

Chernobyl radiation map

Above is Chernobyl contamination map from wikipedia. As you can see it is North Ukraine and South-West Belarus that suffered the most. And yet according to the graph, biggest life expectancy drop was observed in Russia. While Russia certanly got it's share of the radiation, it's nowhere near to that of Ukraine and Belarus. And we are only talking about tiny South-East part of Russia, which couldn't have possibly had that much influence on the big picture.

The drop in life could be connected to similar drop in the quality of life after USSR collapce. Destroyed health service, low food quality, stress due rapid transition to capitalism (which explains why male life expectancy dropped more that female), high crime level, poverty, etc.

  • 1
    The question is not about the effects of Chernobyl, but about life expectancy. You don't seem to be touching that subject at all!
    – Sklivvz
    Nov 9, 2012 at 21:27

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