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Study: Communism makes nations poorer, less healthy

Red flags flutter in the wind as Russian Communist party supporters attend a memorial ceremony on March 5 to mark the 65th anniversary of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's death on Red Square. A study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science found that being a former communist state had a significant negative impact on the health and income levels of nations. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP/Getty Images)

A study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science found that being a former communist state had a significant negative impact on the health and income levels of nations.

What did the study say?

The study found that “recent cultural factors – especially communist history – provide a better explanation” than cultural differences for health and income level disparities between nations. It even blamed communism for lower life expectancies in Soviet Bloc nations during the Cold War.

According to the study:

“The proximate causes for this low life expectancy are complex, but high alcohol consumption, smoking and poor workplace safety, as well as low-quality diet and living conditions associated with lower income levels are implicated.”

In contrast, the researchers found that in non-communist Europe:

“Longevity greatly increased during recent centuries in Europe in part due to generally rising living standards (and thereby nutrition), with increasing health and longevity interacting with the economy in a positive feedback loop.”

Wh0 did the study?

The study was written by two professors from the University of Auckland in New Zealand and a doctoral researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity Science in Berlin.

It looked at data from 44 nations in Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. It looked at both countries that have been controlled by communist governments like Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia, and ones that never had a communist government like the United Kingdom, France, and Ireland. These nations were rated on the relative health, income, and education of their citizens, based on the United Nations’ Human Development Index.

The researchers looked at three factors: “geographic proximity, religion, and former communism.” They then used U.N. data on these factors to attempt to identify trends within these nations. The study states that “communism significantly negatively predicts HDI, income and health indices.”

The researchers noted that although their results were compelling, further studies that looked at all nations instead of just a few would be helpful.

“It should also be noted that the focus on a relatively small sample of 44 countries speaking Indo-European languages may have limited our statistical power to detect effects that are in fact present — potentially including a cultural phylogenetic effect — particularly in the multivariate analysis. Larger-scale analysis of the causal relationships between development outcomes, geography, religion, political ideology and deep cultural phylogeny around the globe would thus be a fruitful avenue of further research.”
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