I found this fact on OMG Facts:

80% of Soviet males born in 1923 died in WWII.

Not surprisingly, Russia was the country with the highest WW2 causalities, with over 21 million.

I can't find any source for the figure beyond fact-list websites. Is this true?

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    Welcome to Skeptics! While this is a perfectly good question here, and it will probably get a good answer, you might have more luck at history.stackexchange.com, as more history buffs hang around there. – Oddthinking Dec 8 '14 at 2:57
  • For anyone who has access to Russian-language sources, Wikipedia's article World War II casualties of the Soviet Union looks like a good starting point. A back-of-the-envelope calculation from the numbers there shows about a 30% death rate, but changing assumptions could shift it considerably up or down. – Mark Dec 8 '14 at 11:29
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    For comparison, total number deaths in WW2 by country: USA 0.3% of total population; UK 1%; Germany 11%; USSR 14% (Russia 13%, Ukraine 16%). – ChrisW Dec 8 '14 at 16:19
  • Does this include being shot by NKVD between 1937 and 1945? – user5341 Dec 8 '14 at 20:45
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    "... in WWII" presumably means death, from any cause, in the 1941-1945 time frame. – ChrisW Dec 8 '14 at 22:26

That seems high? I expect "80%" possible and even plausible, but the one piece of data which I'm going to present (below) suggests "40%",

There's data referenced in Uncounted Costs of World War II: The Effect of Changing Sex Ratios on Marriage and Fertility of Russian Women, which says there ended up being a male/female sex ratio of 0.6 to 1 for that cohort.

IMO that implies that "80%" is a bit high (because 80% would imply a 0.2 to 1 ratio assuming no women died).

On page 5,

Russian demographers calculate that the probability of surviving between 1941 and 1946 for men aged 25 to 34 fell from .96 – the probability in the absence of the war based on 1940 mortality rates – to .61 (Andreev et. al. 1993).


While women in the prewar Soviet Union already contended with sex ratios below 1.0 – likely due to the revolutions of 1905 and 1917, World War I (1914-1917), civil war (1918-1922) and the political purges of the 1930s, all of which disproportionately affected men – the sex ratio fell dramatically for individuals born around 1925, from .91 to .65 for the 20-29 age group.

But these are numbers for Russia, not the whole Soviet Union:

The data and figures in this and following sections are for the Russian republic (the RSFSR) rather than the Soviet Union as a whole, since the empirical analysis uses Russian census data and primarily focuses on the Russian republic.

It's easy to imagine most of the men of fighting age dying, in places like Leningrad.

Russia accounts for maybe half the population of the USSR, the next largest being the Ukraine. Given that there was mass conscription I'm going to guess that Russian losses were representative of those of the USSR as a whole (though it also wouldn't surprise me if Ukrainian casualties were higher).

Still I don't see how or from where to infer 80%. Perhaps (I speculate) the pre-war army was nearly annihilated, and that every man born in 1923 was (aged 18 in 1941 and) a conscript in that army:

The surprise attack on the woefully unprepared Red Army led to devastating losses for the Soviet Union in the early phase of the war: within the first six months, the Red Army had lost nearly 5 million men – the size of the Soviet Union’s entire prewar army – and had lost territory equal to the size of the United States between the East Coast and Springfield, Illinois (Glantz 2005).

The Soviet Union mobilized all possible resources in its subsequent fight for survival and ultimate victory. The need for manpower dictated a significant loosening of the age and nationality restrictions on conscription of Soviet citizens; it is reported that men “well under” the age of 18 and exceeding 55 years of age were conscripted into the Red Army, with Russians and non-Russians alike required to serve (Glantz 2005).

One anomaly that is not explained is there is an apparent discontinuity in the graph for Figure 3 on page 30:

enter image description here

But perhaps that's not proof that the numbers are 'off the scale' then, but rather it's because there are no census numbers for that date-range ("at age 20"), because it's while the war is actually happening.

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    This is a great start to an answer, but the "assuming no women died" part is way off. A "sizable number of women served in the {Soviet} army", mostly medics but also many front-line combat roles like gunners, snipers and pilots. Civilian women also suffered terribly from events like the Siege of Stalingrad and other hostile advances, and food/medical shortages, etc. If you can find a decent estimate of the male : female death ratio or deaths among Soviet women, it could lift the 40% substantially – user568458 Feb 5 '16 at 23:08

Depending on what version of this claim you read, they will state 80% died "in WWII" or "did not survive WWII". Either way, the implication is 80% of the male population of 1923 was killed during WWII implying some colossal slaughter. It turns out the slaughter had happened long before.

Mark Harrison did research and a write up on this very statement. This conclusion was that half that population was already dead when the war broke out from infant mortality, disease, famine, and Stalin's purges.

Here's the numbers I worked from on the programme(in thousands, rounded to the nearest hundred thousand). Each of the lines is sourced below.

Males born in the Soviet Union in 1923: 3,400
Infant (0-1) mortality: 800
Childhood (1-18) mortality, famine, and terror: 800
Surviving to 1941: 1,800
Wartime mortality: 700
Surviving to 1946: 1,100

The Buzzfeed claim is overstated, although not by a wide margin. Around two thirds (more exactly, 68%) of the original 1923 male birth cohort did not survive World War II. But the war is not the most important reason for the poor survival rate; almost half of them died before the war broke out.

One can say 40% of Soviet males born in 1923 who survived to see WWII died in WWII. Still pretty damn brutal.

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