98 Russian Domain: Population Geography – Imbalanced Sex Ratio


The sex ratio is a very useful and flexible demographic statistic. This measurement considers the balance between males and females in a population, usually expressed as males per 100 females.  A low sex ratio is fewer than 100 males for each 100 females, while a high sex ratio shows more than 100 males for each 100 females.


There are numerous factors that affect the sex ratio. Although non-intuitive to contemplate, due to human biology, the sex ratio at birth is normally 105-107.  Again, that would mean 105-107 boys born for every 100 girls born. While it seems that the sex ratio at birth ought to be 100 (it’s a boy or a girl, thus seemingly even odds), this is not the case. Given that males die at every age more often than females, males need the head start in the biological run.  Actually, the race begins even before conception, as the sex ratio at conception is about 115.  This means that countries with high birth rates will have a higher share of children (more boys than girls, because of the birth head start) in their populations, thus a high sex ratio.  Given Russia’s current long trend of low birth rates (12.2 in 2020), the boys’ head start does not produce a high sex ratio in Russia.

Significant factors influencing sex ratios and life expectancy include risk levels of male jobs, behavior, and war.  Clearly military service is performed by more men than women; in some countries, women are not allowed in the military.  Military service creates risks, obviously magnified greatest in actual military conflicts, skirmishes, and wars.  True throughout the world, more male soldiers die than women soldiers.  Definitely, this factor has influenced Russia’s sex ratio, primarily decades ago with World War II and to a modest extent in Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan and its civil wars with Chechnya. Russia’s low sex ratio after World War II has failed to recover in any significant ways.

Russia has many rugged lands where resource extraction is important. Typically, workers in these harsh settings are men. Definitely inherited from Soviet days, Russia’s industrial cities face significant levels of pollution.  More men than women work in these dangerously toxic settings, thereby reducing life expectancy and the sex ratio.  Indeed, these factors contribute to a lower sex ratio in Russia.


Photograph showing a drunk man, slumped on the sidewalk in St. Petersburg, Russia..
Drunk man in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo by Ralf Steinberger on Flickr.

Lifestyle choices affect sex ratios, particularly when risks are not shared evenly between men and women.  Levels of alcohol consumption in Russia are vastly different for men than for women.  Very high levels of alcohol abuse by men in Russia has led to significantly high ranges of illness and death.  Addiction in Russia has expanded beyond alcohol to a variety of drugs, but particularly to heroin.  Russia is now the world’s largest user of heroin, as brought across former Soviet Central Asia from Afghanistan.  Like anywhere else, more men are addicted users than women are. Smoking long has been known to reduce life expectancy, but in Russia and throughout the world, more men smoke than do women.  These and other lifestyle choices reduce male life expectancy sharply in Russia, while only marginally affecting the female population.  Many more male deaths than female deaths have distinctly lowered the sex ratio in Russia.

Since 1985, Russia ranks number one in the world in total number of suicides.  For an interesting animated graphic comparing countries on this measure go to – https://tinyurl.com/suicides1985 .  Russia and the United States are the only two countries with over one million suicides in that time frame.  France and Ukraine ( also in the Russian Domain) are neck and neck for fourth and fifth place, while Japan is third.  Suicide rates and totals in China and India are disputed.

Which countries have the highest rates of suicide (that is different than total numbers)?  Several of the top rates are revealed in countries formerly in the Soviet Union.  #1 – Lithuania, 2 – Russia (31 per 100,000 people – but 56 male, 9 female), 5 – Belarus, 7 – Kazakhstan, 8 – Ukraine, 9 – Latvia.  Numbers 2, 5, and 8 are in our region defined as the Russian Domain.  Note that globally men kills themselves more than women kill themselves.  Obviously, that trend affects the sex ratio.

Aging of a population lowers its sex ratio, as biologically women live longer than men, hence the head start given to baby boys.  With Russia being in Stage 5 (or the extended Stage 4) of the Demographic Transition, Russia has had many years for declining birth rates and declining death rates. With lower death rates come longer life expectancies that produce relatively more older women than older men. Compared to countries around the world, Russia and several other post-Soviet countries have some of the largest gaps between male and female life expectancies.

Life Expectancy - Male and Female in Post-Soviet Countries

World Rank in Gap Years Post Soviet Country Male Life Expectancy Female Life Expectancy Gap in Years
2 Belarus 65.3 77 11.7
3 - tied Russia 64.2 75.6 11.4
3 - tied Lithuania 67.4 78.8 11.4
5 Ukraine 65.7 75.7 10
6 Latvia 68.9 78.7 9.8
7 Kazakhstan 64.3 73.9 9.6
9 Estonia 71.6 81.1 9.5
13 Turkmenistan 61.3 69.7 8.4
15 Moldova 67.2 75.4 8.2
World - 2010-2015 68.3 72.7 4.5
USA 76.3 81.1 4.8

Besides these noted above, there are other factors that may affect sex ratios (e.g., male migration into Middle Eastern countries), but these are not significant in Russia.  Or war, as #1 is Syria.

As a result of these many factors, Russia has one of the lowest sex ratios in the world.  Given that societal elements inherited from the communist period had wide distribution across the USSR, it is not surprising that other former Soviet republics, now independent countries, also feature very low sex ratios. Of note, the other locations in the top ten are small Caribbean islands.

Sex Ratio in Post-Soviet Countries

Ranked in World Post-Soviet Country Sex Ratio
2 Latvia 84.8
3 Lithuania 85.3
6 Ukraine 86.3
7 Armenia 86.5
8 - tied Russia 86.8
8 - tied Belarus 86.8
10 Estonia 88
World in 2015 101.8
USA 98.3


Did You Know?

Sex ratios in China are skewed from the norm, significantly due to the country’s former One-Child Policy that heightened existing levels of son preference, thereby leading to noteworthy levels of gender-based abortion and higher levels of female mortality.

A curious finding among a few studies suggests that during wars, the sex ratio at birth may rise slightly, as if in biological response and adjustment for male lives lost in the war.


Check Your Understanding


Cited and additional bibliography:

Gao, George. 2015. “Why the Former USSR Has Far Fewer Men than Women.” Pew Research Center. August 14, 2015. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/08/14/why-the-former-ussr-has-far-fewer-men-than-women/.

Hesketh, T., and Z. W. Xing. 2006. “Abnormal Sex Ratios in Human Populations: Causes and Consequences.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 103 (36): 13271–75. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0602203103.

Sintia Radu. 2018. “Countries With the Highest Rates of Suicide.” US News & World Report. U.S. News & World Report. 2018. https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/slideshows/countries-with-the-highest-suicide-rates?slide=2.

Steinberger, Ralf. 2013. Drunk Man in Saint Petersburg, Russia. https://tinyurl.com/russiadrunkard. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).


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The Western World: Daily Readings on Geography Copyright © 2020 by Joel Quam and Scott Campbell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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