Russia vs. U.S: Where Is Life Better?

Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to win the March 18 election by a wide margin, but that doesn’t mean Russians are happy with the way things are.

Restrictions on political freedoms have prevented any real opposition from running against Putin, and years of economic troubles have hit everyday Russians hard.

But is life in the United States any better? Here’s how the two countries compare…

Americans are significantly happier than Russians, according to the UN’s World Happiness Report 2018. Looking at indicators such as income, life expectancy, freedom to make decisions and social support, the US ranked 18th of 156 countries, while Russia was 59th.

But that gap is closing. Another index in the report measuring changes in happiness levels in 141 countries showed that Russians became happier from the period 2008-10 to 2015-17.

The US, however, was among 72 countries that became less happy in that time. This loss of happiness was mostly due to non-income factors, including less social support and a reduced sense of personal freedoms, the report suggests.

Prices are generally much lower in Russia than in the US, but Russia wages are lower too. When purchasing power parity — a measure of affordability — is taken into account, Americans can buy more with their bucks than Russians can with their rubles.

Renting a home and lifestyle expenses, like going out for dinner or buying a bottle of wine, are much more affordable for Americans. Of course, there are some things, such as catching a cab, that are cheaper for Russians.

The gender gap in the US isn’t that different to Russia’s when it comes to the number of women in the workforce and education levels. But a World Economic Forum study of gender equality around the world ranked the US well above Russia for one main reason — political empowerment.

American women play a greater role in governance overall than women in Russia, although Russia has more women in ministerial positions. Neither country has had a female head of state in modern history.

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Russia has no laws specifically addressing domestic violence, and in February 2017, the country introduced legislation dubbed the “slapping law,” which actually decriminalized many forms of violence in the home.

Paid vacation is enshrined in law in Russia, and everyone in the country is entitled to at least 14 paid national holidays as well. If these holidays fall on a day like Tuesday, Russians will often get the Monday off as a “bridge” day, as well.

The US is the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid time off work. Americans in salaried professions, however, generally expect employers to offer paid vacation time and public holidays as well.

But a lot of Russians don’t take the leave they’re given — many say they can’t afford to go away. It’s also because Russians often rely on financial extras, like overtime, so while they may get their wages to take time off, they give up other benefits if they do.

It can be difficult to quantify the quality and accessibility of healthcare. Russia, for example, offers universal healthcare to its citizens, meaning the government pays for people to see a doctor or get treatment, and it has more hospital beds and physicians available per person. But the quality of healthcare is so low that many Russians end up paying out of their pockets for treatment.

The US spends a much larger portion of its GDP on health, but it generally only funds or subsidizes healthcare for eligible lower-income people and their families, disabled people and senior citizens, so most Americans rely on private insurance. But a study published in The Lancet ranking the world’s healthcare systems by quality and accessibility put the US at 34th of 195 countries, while Russia came in at a much lower 72nd.

Paid maternity and paternity leave is another area where the US lags behind the rest of the developed world. By law, new parents working for companies of a certain size for at least a year are given time off after having a baby or adopting a child, but there’s no national requirement to pay them or hold their job beyond a few months. Some states, like California, are beginning to offer more generous terms.

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In Russia, the leave entitlement is generous, but the pay is capped at a basic wage. Women get 70 paid days before and 70 days after birth or adoption. Some women, however, report discrimination and job insecurity when they do return to work.

There is no explicit paternity leave, but men can take annual paid leave and employers are obliged to offer all parents up to three years off or flexible working time after having a child. One parent can stay at home at a time at a maximum pay of 21,555 rubles ($377) a month in that three-year period.

The acceptance of homosexuality in Russia is strikingly low and homophobia has crept into government policy in recent years. The country in 2013 passed a law that became known as the gay propaganda law, making the distribution of materials that show “non-traditional sexual relationships” to minors illegal.

Reports emerged around a year ago that authorities in Russia’s Chechen Republic were detaining and abusing gay men because of their sexuality. The Chechen government denied the accusations and also denied gay men even exist in the republic.

In the US, on the other hand, gay rights have improved. A 2015 Supreme Court ruling paved the way for same-sex marriage to become legal in all 50 states and another Supreme Court decision in 2016 made same-sex adoption legal across the country as well.

Crime rates in the US are much higher than in Russia — except when it comes to murder. Russia has more than twice the number of intentional homicides than the US, but Americans are over five times more likely to be burgled and over 14 times more likely to be assaulted, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.


This feature originally appeared in CNN.

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