Greg Cochran’s recent post on the topic reminded me of a post I began writing but then abandoned ages ago (like in 2012). I can’t find whatever I wrote (no big loss; there wasn’t much) but I did come across this graph I had quickly and messily compiled back then:
Population figures are taken from https://www.mortality.org/ for the year 1959.
As you can see, it is congruent with the map of male/female ratios in 1950 that Cochran cites in his post (see right).
In the younger cohorts, the GDR was about as hard hit as the RSFSR (~40% mortality relative to women) by WW2; the FRG did somewhat better (30% lost).
However, the RSFSR had a lot more men born around 1895-1905 missing relative to Germany, and the ratio only worsens from there on.
In contrast, in a “normal”, pretty rich country like Sweden that avoided both wars, men and women retain numerical parity until around the 1905 cohort.
- The scale of male surplus deaths during the Red Terror or Civil War casualties has been grossly underestimated.
- Victims of Stalinist terror (that’s around 1 million men; 99% were men) have been grossly underestimated.
- Usually, more boys than girls die in famines, and Russia had a lot of them: Early 1920s (5-10 million); collectivization (7 million); WW2 dearth (2 million); 1947 famine (1.5 million). This isn’t a huge difference, but must have played some role.
- Russian military losses in WW2 are grossly underestimated, on which more below:
The 1920s Russian cohorts were all pretty much smashed in 1941-42 (including the hunger-genocide of the great bulk of POWs that died in captivity during WW2; at 3.5/5.5 million, that’s more than 50% of the victims of the Jewish Holocaust). This left the older generations born in the 1900s-10s to do most of the fighting in 1943-45. I suspect this is the strongest effect, which accounts for the prolonged dip. (In contrast, Germany only had to start resorting to calling up oldtimers on a large scale after Operation Bagration in 1944).
The most cited figure of Soviet military losses in WW2 are around 8.7 million, of which 5.8 million were ethnic Russians [Krivosheev]; though some say it is an underestimate.
The Germans lost around 5.3 million [Overmans]; though some say it is an overestimate. The German government says 4.3 million.
So that’s broadly similar in terms of population (in 1941: around 110 million in RSFSR; 80 million in core parts of Nazi Germany).
However, something that doesn’t up here. During the 1920s-30s, Russia (RSFSR) was producing 3x as many babies as Germany. However, its 1920s cohort appears to be even more depleted than Germany’s.
(That said, the Russian infant mortality rate during that period was still around 200-250/1,000. So Russia’s effective lead over Germany was more on the order of 2.5x. Still a large difference).
And that doesn’t begin to explain the sharp divergence after the 1915 cohort: While Germany starts going up (albeit taking another slide around the WW1 period), Russia keeps going inexorably down.
Explanations that *don’t* fit:
- Gastarbeiters. This is 1959, that jig is only getting started in West Germany.
- Volksdeutsche deported from Eastern Europe. Would have actually worsened the German figures, as they suffered even greater military losses as a percentage of their population than the territory of the GDR.
- Russian alcoholization. While this accounted for the disparity in Russian men/women seen from the late USSR to today (seeing as it overwhelmingly affected men), this was not relevant to the pre-1965 period. There was no mass alcoholism before that period, and the gap between male and female Russian life expectancy was not dissimilar from those of other countries.
In general, a great deal more quantitative work needs to be done on the multiple Russian genocides and democides of the first half the 20th century.
Regarding the rest of Cochran’s post:
Seems pretty far fetched to ascribe the events of the late 1980s to the demographic catastrophe of the early 1940s. While I am mostly a materialist on history, if I had to add a “spiritual” reason to why the USSR collapsed, I’d say it had to do with the fact that Gorbachev was the first Soviet leader not to have been born in the Russian Empire. As Egor Kholmogorov put it in a recent article, he was the Soviet history’s “last man.”
That said, I do agree with his idea that the USSR was much weaker than it looked in the decade after WW2. Most of the divisions that invaded Germany were severely undermanned, unlike their fresh and often replenished Western Allies counterparts. While military histories often speak of Germany “scraping the bottom of its manpower barrel” by 1944, in reality that applied just as much if not more so to the USSR. Combined with its massive lead in strategic delivery platforms and atomic weaponry, this is why I have myself argued that the 1945-1955 period was the one time in world history that a single power (the US) had the means to become a world-dominating singleton.