The long shadow of communism: new cross-national evidence for the European health divide

Yuka Minagawa, University of Texas at Austin
Robert A. Hummer, University of Texas at Austin

This research presents analyses focusing on the understanding of health disparities between European countries, known as the “European health divide.” Using data from 47 European countries, spanning from 1992 to 2008, this paper investigates how gender-specific life expectancy at birth and infant mortality rates differ across three groups: Western Europe, East Central Europe, and the former Soviet Union. The analyses lead to several important conclusions. First, consistent with prior research on this topic, men and women in Eastern Europe face greater disadvantages in terms of longevity compared to their Western European counterparts. The gap in life expectancy has become even larger over time. Second, we find evidence suggestive of another health divide in Europe: gender-specific life expectancy in the former Soviet countries is significantly lower than that in the East Central European countries. Third, mechanisms of health inequality appear to differ considerably by gender. Socioeconomic and behavioral factors explain the differences between Eastern and Western Europe in life expectancies of women, whereas large disparities remain for men. We observe similar patterns of regional inequality in health among infants, but cross-country differences are explained by socioeconomic conditions for both male and female infants. To conclude, there remain large health disparities across Europe. Observed health differentials reflect divergence in the historical, cultural, and socioeconomic environments between these countries.

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Presented in Session 66: Longevity and historical analysis

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