Urban/rural contrasts

Throughout the history of the Soviet Union, and particularly during the first Five-Year Plan, Russians migrated from rural areas to urban areas in search of jobs and better lives. Today, Russians in large urban areas have a higher standard of living than those from rural regions. They also have better medical and social services, better schools, more interesting jobs, and pay less in rent.Many state welfare benefits are unavailable in rural areas.

Approximately 75 percent of the population of Russia lives in urban areas. Soviet planners favored big cities. They provided more funds for them than for smaller cities (of less than 50,000 inhabitants) and rural areas. Many smaller Russian towns still have few social services, such as health care, schools, and shopping centers, and have relatively low standards of living.

In general, city dwellers in Russia today have to cope with numerous problems, almost all related to government neglect. There is an acute shortage of affordable housing. Overcrowded public transportation systems, poor health services, and antiquated systems of shopping are common.With the exception of Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other very big urban centers, little state money is available for urban improvement. Entrepreneurs (the “New Russian” business-people), who are making money from the growing capitalist economy, live well in the big cities. However, at the same time, large numbers of poor people and pensioners struggle to survive. They are victims of inflation and unemployment.

Russia, like the United States, is an urbanized society. Even so, approximately 25 percent of the nation's population still lives in rural areas. Collectivization of agriculture and incomes below poverty level have disrupted rural life since the early years of Soviet rule. Stalin's collectivization program forced farmers to give their land, animals, and farm implements to the state and work collectively with other farmers on large state-controlled or state-managed agricultural enterprises. Under Soviet rule, rural dwellers had the low status given to peasants. Many rural dwellers looked for any opportunity to leave the farms for towns and cities. Rural depopulation on an alarming scale plagued European Russia, Siberia, and the Far East. Those who remained in rural areas were generally elderly, very conservative, less educated, or not motivated to look for change. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, rural Russia has suffered from high inflation and low agricultural prices.

There is little credit available for farm improvements and new equipment. State support for agricultural activities is limited. It is difficult to market farm products. High costs of fuel have also increased rural isolation. As a result, the quality of rural life is declining further. In many parts of rural Russia today, people live and work at subsistence levels similar to those in the early twentieth century.