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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Falls Further Behind Europe, U.S.

Despite an increase in per capita income, Russia has fallen further behind developed countries like Norway, Japan and the United States in terms of income, life expectancy and other factors, according to a UN report released last week.

The United Nations Development Program's annual human development index ranks Russia 65th out of 177 countries, sandwiched between No. 64 Libya and No. 66 Macedonia. Last year, Russia was ranked 62nd.

The figures do not necessarily suggest quality of life is worsening in Russia. As Kaarina Immonen, UNDP's representative in Russia, explained, the drop in the rankings has more to do with improvements in other countries.

Per capita income in Russia now stands at $9,902, up from $9,500 last year. But life expectancy dipped incrementally: Last year, Russians could expect to die, on average, at 65.3 years of age. This year, with an average life expectancy of 65.2 years, they have one-tenth of a year, or 36.5 days, less time on the planet, well behind Macedonia, at 73.9 years, and Libya, with 73.8 years.

"Russia has certainly made improvements with its GDP per capita, but life expectancy is stagnating or declining," Immonen said. "Any policies directed at improving life expectancy would be extremely helpful."

When it comes to access to health care and education, Russia also lags far behind "high human development" countries in the West and elsewhere.

President Vladimir Putin noted in his state-of-the-nation address in May that the country's population was falling by about 700,000 yearly. He proposed a series of government programs, including cash incentives for women to have more children, to boost the birth rate.

For the sixth consecutive year, Norway, with a per capita GDP of $38,454 and an average life span of nearly 80 years, was ranked the world's best country live in. Iceland came in at No. 2, followed by Australia, Ireland, Sweden, Canada, Japan and the United States.

Famine-stricken Niger came in at rock bottom. Average life expectancy in the West African country is 44.6 years; per capita GDP is $779.

Russia was just two places shy of being categorized a "high human development" country, remaining in the index's middle tier of "medium human development."

No. 63-ranked Mauritius, an island nation off Africa's southeastern coast in the Indian Ocean, came in last place in the "high human development" category.

Income and life expectancy do not always correspond, the report makes clear. While the average Sri Lankan can expect to live 74.3 years, average GDP in the island nation is $4,390, less than half that of Russia.

Greatly boosting Russia's ranking was its nearly 100 percent literacy ranking among adults.

In a poll conducted last month by the independent Levada Center, 44 percent of the 1,600 respondents said Russia was not moving in the right direction, while 38 percent said they liked the direction the country was headed in.

"Life has certainly improved for many in the past five to six years," said Marina Krasilnikova, a Levada Center analyst. "People are still hopeful that life will get better, but it's a cautious hope. They would like to see a more stable basis for economic growth rather than the fluctuations of oil and gas prices."

In another poll conducted last month by the state-run firm VTsIOM, 81 percent of Russians said that given the option to be born in any country they would pick Russia.

According to the same poll, 36 percent of Russians regard Western Europe as the most attractive place to emigrate to, with 12 percent preferring Germany and 4 percent preferring France and another 4 percent, Great Britain.