• Alaka BasuAlaka Basu
      Alaka M. Basu is Professor, Development Sociology, Cornell University, and a member of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health
      Alessandro RosinaAlessandro Rosina
      Professor of Demography and Director, Center for Applied Statistics in Business and Economics, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
      Andrea BrandoliniAndrea Brandolini
      Head of Statistical Analysis Directorate, Bank of Italy
      Bruno MasquelierBruno Masquelier
      Professor of Demography, University of Louvain, Belgium
      Cheikh MbackéCheikh Mbacké
      Associate Professor, Sociology department, Laval University
      Cinzia ContiCinzia Conti
      Researcher at Istat, Head of Unit on Foreign Presence and Social Dynamics
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      Director of the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies, National Research Council, Rome Italy
      Ernestina CoastErnestina Coast
      Associate Professor of Population Studies, London School of Economics
      Wang FengFeng Wang
      Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, USA, and Professor at Fudan University, Shanghai, China fwang(at)
      Francesco BillariFrancesco Billari
      Professor of Sociology and Demography, University of Oxford
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      Professor at Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle and Director of Research at the French National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) (Paris)
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      Professor of Demography, University of Florence, Italy
      Jacques VallinJacques Vallin
      Emeritus Research Director at INED, Paris; Honorary President of IUSSP
      John KnodelJohn Knodel
      Research Professor Emeritus, Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan (USA) and International staff, College of Populations Studies, Chulalongkorn University (Thailand)
      Letizia MencariniLetizia Mencarini
      Associate professor of Demography, Bocconi University - Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics and Public Policy & Collegio Carlo Alberto; P.I. ERC P.I. ERC project n. 313617 (2013-2018) SWELLFER
      Letizia TanturriLetizia Tanturri
      Associate Professor of Demography, University of Padova, Italy
      Massimo livi BacciMassimo livi Bacci
      Emeritus Professor of Demography, University of Florence, Italy
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      Research Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland, USA
      Paula Miranda-RibeiroPaula Miranda-Ribeiro
      Professor, Demography Department and Cedeplar, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil.
      Peter McDonaldPeter McDonald
      Professor of Demography in the Australian National University. Honorary President of IUSSP and winner of the Irene B. Taeuber Award
      Roberto ImpicciatoreRoberto Impicciatore
      Università di Bologna.
      Salvatore StrozzaSalvatore Strozza
      Professor of Demography, University Federico II, Naples (Italy)
      Stefano MolinaStefano Molina
      Senior Program Officer, Giovanni Agnelli Foundation, Italy
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Youth mortality in European countries: a comparative analysis
La mortalité des jeunes dans les pays européens : une analyse comparative

Elena Nikolayuk

In the 2nd half of the 20th century significant demographic changes occurred in the majority of European countries, especially in terms of mortality decline. Russia and other post-Soviet countries, however, followed a different path: a stagnation in the mid-60s, followed by a growth until 1981, and then again some progress (decline) in mid-80s, just before the dramatic increase of the 90s, when mortality reached a peak in all age groups except infants. This paper focuses in particular on “youth mortality” (i.e. at ages 15-29 years) in Russia which happens to be much higher than in other European countries. Why?

Russia vs the rest of Europe
Schermata 2015-11-05 a 18.02.01The convergence-divergence dichotomy (Vallin and Meslé 2004) is summarized in Fig.1. Due to an increase in Russia and steady fall in Western European countries, the gap in mortality rates between Russia and the rest of Europe. In 2012, latest available year with fully comparable data from the HMD (Human Mortality Database), three groups of European countries could be easily detected: Western countries with low youth mortality rates, Eastern countries with higher levels, and Russia, largely the first (meaning: the worst).


Schermata 2015-11-05 a 18.02.09Youth mortality has frequently a peak at about 20 years or earlier, because of the “risky” behaviour of the (late) teen agers: not only sex, drugs and rock and roll, but also alcohol and, especially, careless driving. Schermata 2015-11-05 a 18.03.06After this peak, mortality normally stabilizes and appears as a roughly flat, low level, line.
This is not the case in Russia, however (or in Belarus and Ukraine, for that matter), where mortality increases steadily with age (Fig.2). 
Schermata 2015-11-05 a 18.02.52Youth mortality is mostly mortality due to external causes of death: for men these typically account for 60 to 80% of the total (Fig.3); for women they normally range between 40 and 60% (Figure 4).

Culture matters

External causes (essentially traffic accidents and intentional self-harm), as well as diseases of the circulatory system, infectious and parasitic diseases (third place for Russia), are often the result of risky behavior of young people, which in turn can is connected to prevailing cultural values (Schwartz 2003).
Using data from the European Social Survey, I found that in the countries with high youth mortality the most important values for the young (15-29 years) are self-enhancement (power and achievement) and conservation (security, conformity and tradition). Conversely, in the countries where the most important values for the young are openness to change (hedonism, stimulation, self-direction) and “self-transcendence” (universalism and benevolence) mortality is lower. Moreover there is a strong correlation between the causes of death and the values. For example, diagram 8 illustrates the correspondence between mortality from the traffic accidents and the importance of the value “secure”. High scores of the value “secure” mean that young people rely on government’s protection, and expect that the government will ensure their safety.
Schermata 2015-11-05 a 18.02.45Unfortunately, traffic accidents depend less on government benevolence than on the drivers’ responsibility, which is arguably enhanced if they worry about the others, too. Of this concern, values as universalism and benevolence appear to be better predictors. 
Not surprisingly, according to the ESS data (wave 5) traffic-related mortality is higher when more people tend to think that it is not (at all) wrong to commit a traffic offence like speeding or crossing a red light (Figure 5). Attitudes like may easily transform into risky behavior and, ultimately, higher mortality, especially among the young.


Vallin J., Meslé F. (2004) Convergences and divergences in mortality. A new approach to health transitionDemographic research, Special collection 2, article 2, pp.11-44. URL:<>

Shwartz Shalom H. (2003) A Proposal for Measuring Values Orientations across Nations. / ESS documentation. 


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