August 14, 2015

Why the former USSR has far fewer men than women

Global Gender Ratios in 2015
Where Women Outnumber Men in 2015In our map above, countries depicted in the darkest blues have far fewer men than women – and the former Soviet Union stands out from the rest of the world.

This region has been predominantly female since at least World War II, when many Soviet men died in battle or left the country to fight. In 1950, there were just 76.6 men per 100 women in the territory that is now Russia. That number rose steadily in subsequent decades, climbing to 88.4 by 1995 before declining again.

The gender ratio in Russia is currently 86.8 men per 100 women, and the ratios in Latvia (84.8), Ukraine (86.3), Armenia (86.5), Belarus (86.8) and other former Soviet nations are similarly low.

(By contrast, the ratio in the U.S. is 98.3 men per 100 women, and the global ratio is 101.8 men per 100 women, according to 2015 United Nations data. The U.S. has been more female than male since at least 1950, while the global population first became majority male around 1960.)

So what are the factors that set the former Soviet bloc apart?

The population in Russia and the former USSR as a whole is older than that of the world. Most of these nations, including the most populous, also have low fertility rates compared with the global average. This skews the population’s gender ratio because older people are more likely to be female, while more younger people are male.

Adjusting for age: Another way to look at global gender ratios

FT_15.08.06_SexRatio_Age Groups

Research over hundreds of years shows that boys naturally outnumber girls at birth. Historically, there have been about 105 boys born for every 100 girls, and this leads to more males than females in younger age groups. At the same time, women have lower premature mortality rates than men and tend to live longer, leading to a higher number of older females than older males.

We created an alternative list of age-standardized gender ratios (.xlsx) for each country (though we didn’t use it in the analysis for this post) by weighting the gender ratios so that each country has an age distribution more closely aligned with the world’s age distribution overall. After the adjustments, former USSR nations disappeared from the list of top 15 countries that have the fewest number of men per women. That’s because the Soviet bloc is older than much of the world, skewing its population more female.



Where Women Outlive Men the LongestYounger men in the former Soviet Union also have an unusually high mortality rate, which has widened the population’s gender imbalance. One way to see this is to look at the life expectancy of men and women and the differences between those numbers.

Russian women born from 2010 to 2015 are expected to live to age 75.6, while Russian men are expected to live to age 64.2, a gap of 11.4 years. Other former USSR countries, such as Belarus, Ukraine and Latvia, have similarly high gaps, with many men in this area losing their lives to alcohol-related incidents, suicides and diseases, among other causes (as noted by demographer Murray Feshbach). The only nation with a higher life-expectancy gap between genders is war-torn Syria.

Alcoholism has long been a problem in the former USSR, especially for young men. A 2014 study in The Lancet medical journal found evidence that excess vodka use is a top killer in Russia, responsible for a disproportionate amount of deaths among Russian men. And a 2013 Pew Research Center survey found a stark gender divide on attitudes toward drinking in Russian society: 52% of women believe that drinking alcohol is morally unacceptable, compared with just 36% of men who say the same.

Topics: Gender, Demographics, Population Trends, Population Geography, Birth Rate and Fertility, Russia

  1. is an associate digital producer at Pew Research Center.


  1. YVONNE EDMONDS2 years ago

    Vodka consumption among Russian men has always (?) been high. So have early deaths.

  2. John M. Freese2 years ago

    Well done reports. Always something of interest – always something thought-provoking. Interesting to speculate how abortion, women’s rights and the presence or absence of religion might impact on the longevity of the sexes.

  3. Micki Johns2 years ago

    Does migration of men from the old USSR countries for better opportunities elsewhere have an impact on this phenomenon as well?

  4. joe2 years ago

    I find this to be another poor analysis by Pew Research. If life expectancy is the culprit for the imbalance in gender, then why don’t you analyze to see if there is more balance in younger demographics?

    How about publishing the data next time instead of drawing conclusions on shoddy analysis.

  5. Gregory Aharfi2 years ago

    Am I the only one to note that the countries in yellow are all muslim-majority nations (except china) ?

    1. Chris Patil2 years ago

      And India, Nigeria, and the DRC.

    2. Chris Patil2 years ago

      And Norway.

    3. Chris Patil2 years ago

      And Iceland and PNG and Paraguay and Guyana and Suriname.

      It’s also worth mentioning that India and China (the two large counterexamples) together contain 2.5 billion people.

    4. Robyn2 years ago

      India isn’t a muslim majority country.

    5. Anonymous1 year ago

      All you responders are missing the valid point that may have been poorly expressed: There is a definite trend of male-dominated demographics in the Muslim-dominant part of the world. He had a point.

  6. Philip Lishman2 years ago

    ..So the Communist genocide – between 30 and 70 million people, murdered by Stalin, Lenin and the rest – had no impact on these figures whatsoever then? (And that is before you take into account the abortions..)

    To not mention this in an article on this subject is not merely partial, but censorship, suggesting that

    i) Communism (or its dialectical descendant) is the governing principle of the West now – and has a grip as total as ever it did in the Soviet Union, and

    ii) The information on Communist genocides has been suppressed either because it is shameful to those who censored it (unlikely – they generally display no shame), or because they know people would be revolted by them if they came to know that people with the same ethical code are ruling us, are unrepentant and have not been punished.

    And they’re still killing, in the same numbers as in the Soviet Union, but here it is the unborn and the elderly that feed Communism’s endless thirst for blood and death.

    People who still have agency – the dissenters, the religious (Christians) – including children – they now simply socially and financially crush for social and thought ‘crimes’, to avoid making martyrs of them.

    1. Bill2 years ago

      Who is killing the elderly? And what is this mysterious social force that has the power to suppress Christians, the overwhelming religious majority in the West? Christians run all major institutions in the West and Christian religious thought guides all national dialogue. They are not the dissenters; they are the rulers.

      Communist ideology is extinct in mainstream political thought. What politicians are calling for the means of production to be turned over to the people? What politicians are calling for the abolition of private property? None. Democrats meekly suggest that maybe minimum wage should allow a worker to survive and that a wealthy nation shouldn’t have people dying from lack of access to healthcare and the Red Scare descendants scream socialism.

    2. Nyara Chan2 years ago

      Genocides only affects the period where that people would still be alive. Considering that Stalin died roughly 70 years ago, yeah, it still has some effects on the upper parts of the age pyramid, but that would be.