Hardships Still Common in Former Soviet Nations

by Patricia Guadalupe

Many citizens say aspects of life are worse now than under the Soviet Union


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, residents of the emerging countries likely hoped that independence would bring greater economic prosperity and personal wellbeing. However, when the Gallup World Poll interviewed citizens of 14 former Soviet Republics throughout 2006, respondents often reported being worse off now than they were under the USSR.

In the transition from communism to capitalism, one might expect to see a trade-off between affordability and quality, especially for aspects of life that were previously subsidized or free. But while 59% of respondents across the countries surveyed say they face a higher cost of living now than they did under the Soviet system, they commonly report deterioration rather than improvement in key indicators of wellbeing, including housing, healthcare, and education.

In the case of the once heavily subsidized housing system of the former Soviet states, it is not surprising that 61% of respondents in these countries say housing is now less affordable. But when asked to rate the quality of housing now versus in the Soviet Union days, 42% say it is worse now than it was then. Twenty-eight percent of those living in the former Soviet republics say the quality of housing has improved and 20% say it remains the same. Residents of Lithuania (64%), Georgia (60%), Tajikistan (54%), Russia (50%), and Armenia (50%) are most likely to say the quality of housing has deteriorated. In no nation is there a majority that says the quality of housing has improved, though residents of Belarus and Estonia are the most likely to say so, at 49% and 47%, respectively.

A similar pattern emerges when examining ratings of healthcare and education. More than half of respondents (55%) say healthcare, which was provided free by state health institutions in the Soviet era, is now less affordable. When respondents were asked instead about the current quality of healthcare versus the quality of care available under the Soviet Union, they were more divided. Thirty-four percent of people across all nations surveyed say the quality of healthcare is better, 38% say it is worse, and 19% say it is the same. Uzbekistanis (49%), Armenians (48%) and Belarusians (47%) are the most likely to say the quality of healthcare is better today, while those in Kyrgyzstan (60%) and Tajikistan (55%) are the most likely to say it is worse.

Similarly, about half of respondents (49%) tell Gallup that education, which was free, universal, and multilingual under the Soviet Union, is currently less affordable. When asked to rate the quality of education available to them, respondents are again divided, with 36% saying it is better, 27% saying it is worse, and 23% saying it is the same. People in Lithuania (61%) and Uzbekistan (50%) are the most likely to report improvement in the quality of education, while those in Azerbaijan (43%) and Tajikistan (41%) are most likely to report deterioration.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 or more adults ages 15 and older administered from February to October 2006 in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. In Russia, more than 2,000 interviews were conducted. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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