Is the over-consumption of Vodka a good thing for women’s empowerment?

I came across interesting figures showing that the country with the highest proportion of women in top managerial positions is Russia. The United States lags way behind with 21%, as do the Scandinavian countries, which one would have expected to lead this ranking. This is interesting because Russia is not the most obvious candidate for such a position. The reasons given for this relate mainly to the high levels of emancipation promoted during the Soviet era, high divorce rates which create an incentive to be part of the workforce, etc.

However, there might be another underlying factor: the high levels of alcohol consumption among Russian men, which leads to a very large number of premature deaths. The life expectancy of Russian men is 64 years, or the lowest in the advanced industrialized world.  Russia ranks 142th in the world for male life expectancy, behind Pakistan and Iraq. Female life expectancy ranks 104th. A study showed that alcohol is the major factor behind this strikingly low life expectancy. As the Guardian reported:

“The risk of dying before age 55 for those who said they drank three or more half-litre bottles of vodka a week was a shocking 35%. Overall, a quarter of Russian men die before reaching 55, compared with 7% of men in the UK and about 10% in the United States”

Now, what is interesting is that 55 is probably the average age of your typical CEO, given that the incomplete numbers we have indicate that the average CEO is about 50 upon taking office. Now if you look at the gender ratio across age groups in Russia and the US, you can see that the gender imbalance after the age of 50 is much more pronounced in Russia than in the US (and than in any other industrialised country, for that matter). The extent of the gender imbalance after 60 is quite staggering actually. For 100 American women between 50 and 55, there are 96 American men. However, there are only 86 Russian men for 100 Russian women in that age group. The gender imbalance further increases with older age groups. During the last 5 years of a normal working career (60-65), there are only 7 Russian men for 10 women. We know that women live longer than men more or less everywhere, but in Russia they live much longer (or rather, men die extremely early).

What this means is that the 40% of Russian senior managers who are women are also drawn from a population group where women are much more over-represented than in other countries, and the proportion of male CEOs may be smaller than elsewhere because a greater proportion of men have died along the way. Of course this may work in conjunction with more progressive gender norms (even though the gender wage gap is significant), and we don’t know whether alcohol deaths actually affect those who could become CEOs as much as the population as a whole, but it may be worth exploring.

One thought on “Is the over-consumption of Vodka a good thing for women’s empowerment?

  1. usymmons

    Hmm, but isn’t alcoholism more typical in underprivileged, low-income families – ie not really CEO material? Wouldn’t affordable and accessible childcare be a much more likely candidate?


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