People and Society, Social Issues
The economic and social changes that have occurred since 1991 have especially impacted women and children. Marriage has declined and the divorce rate has risen, resulting in an increased number of single mothers. Women are expected to do almost all the housework, even if they also work a full-time job outside the home. Furthermore, most Russians cannot afford household appliances such as laundry machines, so everyday chores are often time consuming. Women's employment is concentrated in lower-paying jobs, and unemployment is higher among women than among men. Increasingly, employers do not support childcare; this has forced many women to remain at home and to raise their children on a reduced income.
Various social ills that did not exist or were very minor during the Soviet period are a significant problem in contemporary Russia. Illegal drug use has risen substantially in the post-Soviet period because of a lack of enforcement and increased drug availability. Drug use is increasing most rapidly among the young. Russians drink great quantities of alcohol, and the amount of alcohol consumption has increased since Soviet times. Alcohol poisoning is a leading cause of death, especially from homemade or diluted industrial sources.
Drug use is accelerating the spread of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), because the virus that causes AIDS, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), is transmitted chiefly by intravenous drug users who share syringe needles. The incidence of several other infectious diseases has also increased in recent years. Tuberculosis (TB) and other treatable diseases have spread as a result of incomplete treatment of patients and a lack of recognition of the symptoms of the disease among those infected. Venereal diseases have also spread rapidly. On the positive side, the government has conducted successful campaigns against diphtheria and poliomyelitis, and these two diseases seem to be under control.
The number of homeless people has increased dramatically since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Unemployment and underemployment have also reached crisis proportions. Approximately 9 percent of the workforce was unemployed in 1996, although only 3.4 percent of the workforce was officially registered with the government as being unemployed. The number of functionally unemployed persons is much greater, since employers put large numbers of employees on extended leave. Payments to workers and pensioners are frequently late, in some cases months late, which has led to numerous strikes and protests.