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Collectivism is bad for your health

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07/28/2003

Could this be the reason why Austrian thinkers tend to live to very old age? The Scotsman reports that "New research from sociologist Dr William Cockerham and colleagues from the University of Alabama in the United States has found that differences in attitudes to looking after your body and your health are predicted by your political allegiances. It seems those who believe the state should take responsibility for most aspects of life also tend to eschew personal responsibility for taking care of themselves.

The just-published research was conducted among Russians, comparing those who longed for a to return to the old-style Soviet system with those who preferred the free-market approach to the economy. Russian male life expectancy stood at 64 years in 1965, but steadily decreased to around 62 years by 1980. The most recent figures for 2000 show Russian males living 59 years, on average some five years less than in 1965.

Dr William Cockerham’s research, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour, concludes it is unhealthy lifestyles that appear to be the primary determinant of the decline in life expectancy in the former socialist nations. Health lifestyle research on Russia specifically describes an endemic, entrenched pattern of excessive alcohol consumption, heavy smoking, high-fat diets and lack of health-promoting exercise. These lifestyle practices are especially characteristic of middle-age, working class males, whose high mortality rates from heart disease, alcohol poisoning and alcohol-related accidents seem largely responsible for the overall decline in male longevity.

Psychologists identify a common person-type found in Russia and known as homo sovieticus - defined as a person with a collectivist orientation who does not like to assume any individual responsibilities.The theory is that Soviet-style socialism eventually induces passivity toward health promotion in the population. After all, previously the state provided for personal needs and the individual in turn gave up personal reliance and freedom. The state was a shelter as it provided free health care and education, old-age pensions, low-cost housing plus food and guaranteed employment.

The data was collected through personal interviews by the Russian Longitudinal Monitoring Survey, a series of nationally representative surveys of the Russian Federation consisting of almost 9,000 adults. The results were that pro-socialists are nearly one and half times more likely to be frequent drinkers than anti-socialists. Anti-socialists are also significantly more likely to take exercise, in fact, being pro-socialist decreased your chances of exercising regularly by almost 50 per cent. Furthermore, anti-socialists were almost 25 per cent more likely to go for preventive health check-ups compared to pro-socialists. Anti-socialists in Dr Cockerham’s research not only had healthier lifestyles but they also rated themselves as generally more healthy than pro-socialists."

Author:

Martin Masse

Martin Masse is an associate researcher at the Institut économique Molinari in Paris (www.institutmolinari.org) and publisher of the libertarian webzine Le Québécois Libre (www.quebecoislibre.org).

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