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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Survey: Russians Richer Than They Let On

Economists and marketing executives have long looked at all the luxury stores and packed restaurants in Moscow and wondered: Don't Russians really have more money than the official figures show?

According to a new marketing survey, they do. A lot more.

They also feel great about evading taxes, trust the mafia more than the police and own about a million parrots.

"Inside Russia," an exhaustive survey of about 4,000 Russians released this week by the Russian Market Research Co., or RMRC, estimates that the average household rakes in from $205 to $220 a month, compared to official figures of $120 to $130. This would mean that almost half of the income of the Russia people eludes the taxman and the statisticians.

Even here, respondents may not be telling the whole truth. Some poor Russians report spending more than they earn. Of those who receive from $1 to $54 a month, 13.2 percent reported monthly spending of $61 to $100 and 7.9 percent said they spent $101 to $160.

"Potentially Russians are much richer than the West or the rest of the world perceives," said RMRC Chairman Greg Thain.

A lot of private wealth is in the ground. A whopping 61.9 percent of Russians are landowners, and 22.9 percent have plots bigger then 700 square meters.

So far they can't turn most of that dirt into money because the land market has yet to develop, but they do put it to use growing food. Potatoes are the vegetable of choice: 57.4 percent of all households grow the noble tuber, with onions running a close second at 55.7 percent. The survey identifies a demographic group, the "potato growers," of people who produce as much as 75 percent of their own food.

Land also appears to be the most important factor in how Russians feel about life. "The unhappy people tend to be stuck in inadequate flats in major cities with no land," said Thain. "There's quite a lot of happy people out in the countryside because they're generating money on their land."

Age also matters: 73 percent of 16- to 24-year-old respondents said they believe life has grown better over the past year, while 67 percent of Russians over 65 see life as worse, much worse or unbearable. Nearly two-thirds either. Sixty-one percent of all respondents agreed with the statement that tax evasion is not a crime.

Since Russians spend relatively little on taxes and housing, they can afford to be much bigger consumer spenders than even their incomes would suggest, said Thain.

According to the survey, the top 5 percent of Russians spend more than $250 a month on food alone. Video cassette recorders lead the list of planned purchases, with 6.2 percent of respondents planning to buy one in the next six months.

"The consumer market next year or the year after will really take off here," said Thain.

Russians are also setting their travel sights farther abroad than before. Out of the 3.8 percent who have been abroad, the most visited countries are Germany and Turkey. But most want to take their next vacations in France, although men as a group prefer the United States. Russians between the ages of 16 and 34 travel abroad the most.

"Women want to go to France and Italy, the countries of romance, the countries of love," said Thain. "Men want to go to the United States and Canada, which they perceive as money."

RMRC's Russian subsidiary Business & Research Consultancy conducted the study from June to December 1996, sending representatives into some 2,000 households and interviewing 3,943 individuals in Russia's 11 time zones.

The study divides Russians into eight demographic groups: 3.9 percent of the population are super-wealthy "Manhattans," 5.7 percent are elite "young Russians," 6.7 percent, yuppie "white collars," 10.1 percent, middle-age "home improvers," 26.5 percent, dacha-dedicated "potato growers," 19.2 percent, unskilled "depressed potato buyers" who do not own land, 12 percent, an intellectual "lost generation;" and 16 percent are destitute "immobile villagers" who have land but are marooned in the remote rural districts.

Among the oddities discovered by the survey was an unusual preference for parrots, with 955,800 of the colorful birds presently living as pets with Russian families. Thain explained the anomaly by saying that parrots simply live longer than cats or dogs, and people who received the exotic birds as childhood gifts are stuck with them for the entire lifespan.

"The parrot lives 35 years," Thain said.