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Take A Guess! How Have The Lives Of Russians Changed Over The Last 30 Years?

By Kristyna Foltynova and Mikhail Ageev
December 8, 2021

In 1991, the year the Soviet Union collapsed, the average Russian got married between the ages of 18 and 24, had one or two children, and was expected to live to the age of 69. About 1-in-8 Russians completed postsecondary education, and – like folks around the world then -- no one had easy access to the Internet or a cell phone. How have the lives of Russians changed since then?

In the following section, you'll find charts describing various areas of life in Russia -- life expectancy, the number of marriages and divorces, the proportion of people living in cities, and so on. At first, you'll see just a part of each chart -- it usually starts around 1960 (depending on the availability of data) and ends in 1991. The rest of the chart has been left for you to finish. Did the trend go up or down? It's up to you to decide. Draw your estimation and click "confirm" once you're happy with it. You'll have a chance to compare it to the correct answer and read a bit more about the topic after that.

Please note that the story doesn't cover all areas of life, especially those aspects of living where there is a lack of information or the available data is unreliable. It's also worth noting that Russia was just one of several Soviet republics until 1991.

Life Expectancy

Between 1960 and 1991, life expectancy rose by 2.4 years. However, there were many ups and downs during that period and it was on a downward trajectory before the Soviet Union collapsed.

Life Expectancy
(In years)

After 1991, Russia was dealing not only with economic and social instability, but also with increased mortality rates. These were caused by various diseases, but also by alcohol- and tobacco-related disorders as well as high suicide rates. In 1994, life expectancy reached its lowest point in decades (64.5 years) and was especially low among men -- 57.6 years.

After 2003, life expectancy began to rise but fell again in 2020, with the COVID-19 pandemic being a major factor in this decline. Nonetheless, Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he wants it to reach 78 years by 2030.

Marriage And Divorce

About 60 years ago, the number of divorces per 1,000 people was very low, compared to the number of marriages. However, the gap narrowed significantly over the next few decades, thanks, in particular, to a rising divorce rate.

Note: Data is available for every five-year period.

(Number per 1,000 people)

(Number per 1,000 people)

After the collapse of the U.S.S.R., the number of marriages started to fall and declined from 8.9 marriages per 1,000 people in 1990 to 6.2 marriages in 2000. The marriage rate rose thereafter, but it was followed by another drop, this time to the lowest level in decades -- 5.3 marriages per 1,000 people in 2020. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic needs to be taken into consideration, however.

In that same year, 2020, the gap between the number of marriages and divorces was the narrowest ever recorded.

On the other hand, the number of divorces has been hovering around four divorces per 1,000 people since 1990 and hasn't changed significantly over the last 30 years.

When it comes to the ages of newlyweds, most women got married between the ages of 18 and 24 from 1960 to 2012. After that, weddings became more common between the ages of 25 and 34. The trend was very similar for Russian men. Between 1960 and 2003, the most typical ages for males to get married was between 18 and 24. After that, most bridegrooms were 25 and 34 years old. Recently, the number of Russians getting married after the age of 35 has also been on the rise.

Fertility Rate

Between 1960 and 1991, the fertility rate dropped from 2.52 to 1.73 and was among the 30 lowest rates in the world before the Soviet Union collapsed. Moreover, it was on a downward trend.

Fertility Rate
(Number of births per woman)

After the Soviet Union collapsed, the fertility rate dropped even further -- to 1.16 in 1999, which placed Russia among 10 countries with the lowest birth rates in the world. Eventually, Russia managed to increase its rate to 1.78 in 2015, but the country has again seen a downward trend since then.

Urban Vs. Rural Populations

Between 1960 and 1991, the urban population in Russia increased by almost 20 percentage points and was on an upward trajectory before the Soviet Union collapsed. In 1991, more than 73 percent of Russians lived in towns and cities. That year, the percentage of Russians living in urban environments was similar to that of the United States, France, and South Korea.

Share Of Urban Population
(In percentage terms)

While the size of the urban population in the countries mentioned above (such as the United States and South Korea) has increased to more than 80 percent over the last 30 years, the percentage of Russians living in cities has remained almost the same. Currently, less than three-quarters of Russians live in cities. This rate is similar to Bulgaria and Iran, for example.

However, the United Nations predicts that the level of urbanization in Russia might rise to 83 percent by 2050. While the overall Russian population is expected to shrink by more than 11 million* by that date, the rural population will be affected the most by this decline. The number of people living in cities is actually expected to rise by 3.5 million.

*According to the UN's medium prediction. There are also more pessimistic and more optimistic predictions available.

Telephones And The Internet

Before the 1990s, very few people around the world had access to cell phones and Russians were no different. Landlines, on the other hand, were on the rise, and before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, 15 out of every 100 Russians had a landline connection (slightly above the global average).

Cell-phone subscriptions
(per 100 people)

Landline connections
(per 100 people)

Note: Data on landline connections is not available for 2020.

The world has seen a huge increase in the number of cell-phone subscriptions since 2000. That year, the highest number of subscriptions (76.7 per 100 people) was recorded in Iceland. In Russia, the process was much slower, reaching just 1 subscription per 100 people in 2000. However, by 2020 Russia had reached almost 164 cell-phone subscriptions per 100 people, way above the world average.

Landline connections in Russia went up from 15 connections per 100 Russians in 1991 to almost 32 in 2008, but have been falling since then. In 2019, there were 19 landline connections per 100 Russians, which was similar to rates in Venezuela and Poland.

Similarly, there were no Internet users before the 1990s. In 1991, the year the Soviet Union collapsed, there were already a few users in Norway, Finland, and the United States, but none in Russia.

Percentage Of Population Using The Internet

It took another eight years for Russia to connect 1 percent of its population to the Internet. This process was much slower than in some Western countries, such as New Zealand, Sweden, and Iceland, where more than 40 percent of the population was already connected to the Internet in 1999. Since then, however, the share of Russians using the Internet has been on the rise, reaching 85 percent in 2020.


The percentage of Russians who completed postsecondary education almost doubled between 1970 and 1990 -- rising from 6.5 percent to more than 12 percent.

Note: Data is available every five years. Estimates were used after 2015.

Percentage Of Population With Postsecondary Education

According to estimates published by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, the number of Russians who completed postsecondary education has been on an upward trajectory since 1990 and may have reached 22 percent in 2020. The institute expects this trend to continue and predicts that more than 30 percent of Russians will have completed postsecondary education by 2050.