Life expectancy for men is 62 years. They die as a result of accidents, injuries, or poisonings rather than of old age or incurable diseases. They barely engage in sports activities and are often incapable of siring an heir. They have one of Europe’s highest incidences of tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. A third of them are unmarried, and 12 million Ukrainian men are heavy smokers. Demographers say that the question now is not so much to preserve their health as their life. This is the picture of Ukrainian men.
2005 WAS A CRISIS YEAR
Male mortality statistics are shocking. They have been confirmed in a study by the Institute of Demography and Social Research (Academy of Sciences, Ukraine) submitted to the United Nations Population Fund. According to this report, men live worse only in Russia and Kazakhstan — male mortality in those countries is even higher than in Ukraine.
“In the early 1990s the life expectancy situation was identical in Ukraine and Poland,” says Ella Libanova, deputy director of the Institute of Demography and Social Research. “But since then Poland has been reforming its public health sector, so the life expectancy of its population has risen considerably.”
A tendency towards higher life expectancy is noticeable throughout Europe, but Ukraine, for no discernible reason, falls out of the general picture: despite more or less stable figures in the past five years, the year 2005 alone robbed Ukrainian men of one year of life and women, six months. “I can’t explain this, it is something unbelievable,” Libanova says. “All age groups have shown an increased mortality rate, and we break them up into five-year periods. Last year the number of men who died was almost the same at different ages.»”
Scientists cannot explain this phenomenon and are steeling themselves for the 2006 figures: it may be just a coincidence. But it is a proven fact that in terms of life expectancy, women outstrip men by almost 13 years, not 12.4 like before.
The chart of male/female life expectancy differences shows that with every passing year men’s lives shorten. This trend was broken only once — in 1986. Demographers attribute this to the so-called dry law that banned drinking alcohol at work. This must have reduced alcoholism in the farming sector and saved the lives of millions of men.
The younger a man is the more endangered his health and life. There are also methods for estimating life expectancy for any age, irrespective of the fact of death. This estimation shows that the age difference among 60-year-old people is, like elsewhere in Europe, about three and a half years. Conversely, 45-year-olds and teenagers have a difference of eight and as many as eleven years, respectively. Most men also do not reach the age of 60: statistics indicate that in the over-40 bracket, Ukraine is behind the most advanced countries by almost 100 lives.
IT TAKES TWO TO PLAN A FAMILY
Men, as equal members of society and families, play a significant role in family planning: they are responsible for the number and health of children, as well as for the mother’s health. In childless Ukrainian families, it is women who most often have health problems: approximately, every fourth case of infertility is diagnosed in women, while in each third childless family the problem is with the man. This is caused by an unhealthy lifestyle and chronic diseases, including venereal illnesses contracted at a young age.
Ukraine has dozens of laws and bylaws aimed at developing and planning the family, as well as counseling centers for childless couples. However, even though legislation generally helps resolve problems of reproductive health care, a considerable part of responsibility in this matter falls on women. The government has mapped out the program “Reproductive Health of the Family in 2006-2010” which is aimed at reducing mortality rates among mothers and children and offering expert advice to fathers.
Today, many Ukrainian regions and large cities have civic and non- governmental organizations whose goal is to persuade men to follow healthier lifestyles and help raise children. A number of “schools for dads” and male-health centers inform men about how to prepare themselves for having and raising children, maintain and restore their health, and refrain from domestic violence. The Institute of Demography notes that non-governmental, rather than state-run male-oriented, organizations are in great demand among Ukrainian men: it is prestigious to visit such centers and useful to know how to live in peace with wife and children.
Meanwhile, there are no overall changes in the health of Ukrainian men. More men than women also work in enterprises that are harmful to health, smoke, drink, use drugs, and take less care of their health. All these factors contribute to the drop in Ukraine’s male population, including men who are fit for work and healthy reproduction.
It is pointless to hope that the demographic crisis can be resolved by encouraging childbirth alone. There will be no children as long as there are no healthy men and a healthy nation.