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Drinking beer is saving lives in Russia

Cassie Werber
Quartz | 5 months ago
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Alcohol is a large part of Russian cultural life—and a highly toxic one, too. Not only does alcohol lead Russian men to die on average 12 years earlier than American men, it also causes them to die sooner than their counterparts in highly impoverished nations such as Bangladesh and North Korea (by five years and two years, respectively). In fact, the World Health Organization has found that every fifth death among Russian men is due to alcohol abuse. This can come in many forms, such as alcohol poisoning, drunk-driving accidents, or a booze-fueled homicide. But some Russian men appear to be escaping the worst of these effects, thanks to a short-lived government restriction on alcohol that ended 25 years ago. How could a brief and long-defunct intervention be affecting public health today? That is the question at the core of recent research from Lorenz Kueng, an assistant professor of finance at the Kellogg School. Kueng investigated Soviet-era alcohol policy, historic patterns in Russian moonshine consumption, and present-day alcohol preferences. Kueng, who teamed up with Evgeny Yakovlev of Russia’s New Economic School, found that the decades-old government restrictions inadvertently taught some consumers to permanently prefer light alcohol over hard alcohol. This change, along with subsequent changes in the alcohol market following the collapse of the Soviet Union, increased male life expectancy today and is projected to continue to do so in the future.