Ооо, ребята!: Initial thoughts on a ‘Theory of Бабушка-Divergence’ amongst females over 65 in Russia

Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time in Russia cannot have failed to notice the huge deficit of males over 65. The male mortality rate in Russia is still quite a serious issue. Whilst average life expectancy in Russia is currently set at around 70, we see a significant divide when we take gender into consideration: average male life expectancy in Russia is the 11th lowest worldwide (Statistics 1) and the lowest of any in Europe (Statistics 2), standing at only 65.1; female life expectancy, on the other hand, is currently 76.5. Although life expectancy in general is predicted to increase in the future for both genders, current data indicate that the current gap will nevertheless remain.

 Graph 1

Graph 1: Russian projected life expectancy <http://demoscope.ru/weekly/pril.php> [23.05.14]

 As a result, it is primarily women who survive into old age. Initial data that will be examined in more detail below appears to indicate that at approximately age 65 (i.e. the age at which men die) these women begin a very rapid process of ‘бабушкизация’ (‘babushka-isation’) to become the famous бабушки we all know today. A бабушка can be defined as:

1. grandmother, grandma, granny;

2. old lady;

3. strong, outspoken or opinionated woman.


Pic 2

Example of a Type 1 Бабушка

 Observing these бабушки in their natural environment, one cannot help but notice two distinct types which will be described below. The aim of this essay is to:

(a) outline the two categories of бабушка in modern-day Russia;

(b) examine their effects on society as a whole and;

(c) propose potential future areas of research.


1. Features of бабушки at point of divergence


Whilst this essay aims to describe two separate groups of бабушки, that is not to say that the groups do not display any similarities. A common feature of the Russian бабушка is height – or rather a lack thereof.

Whilst Russians as a whole are not particularly short compared to the world average, Russian women over 65 are on average significantly shorter than their counterparts in other countries and moreover exhibit a far greater loss of height than can be observed elsewhere.

Average female height at age 30 Average female height 65< Height loss (%)
Russia 164cm (5ft 5in) 144.8 cm (4ft 8in) 11.7
Worldwide 160cm (5ft 3in) 153.4 cm (5ft 0.5in) 4.1

Table 1: Average height of women in Russia and worldwide. Worldwide data from World Factbook; Russian data collected by author in city of Tyumen’, Tyumenskaya Oblast’, 2013.

Current data obtained by the author (forthcoming 2014) also indicates that the degree of spine curvature in Russian women deviates from the worldwide average by ≈3.2%. However, this is where similarities between the two proposed groups of бабушки end.

2.1 The Divergence: Mood

One of the key features I am proposing in the Theory of Divergence is the mood of the women in each respective group. Data collected by the author during a 5-month research trip in Tyumen’, Tyumenskaya Oblast’ from February to June, 2013 indicate that, much like the weather in Russia, the moods exhibited by бабушки in Russia are located at the extremes of the spectrum. The diagram below summarises the key thinking behind the current Theory.

 Diagram 1

Diagram 1: Current model for Theory of Divergence

As demonstrated in the above diagram, all бабушки can be classed as either a Type 1 – very friendly, welcoming, likely to talk to anyone in the street – or a Type 2 – mean, unfriendly, liable to shout at people in the street.

Pic 3

Example of a Type 1 Бабушка

Pic 5

Example of a Type 2 Бабушка

2.2 The Divergence: Profession

In Russia a significantly larger proportion of over-65s are employed when compared with western countries such as the UK or USA, much to the credit of Russia. Here, we again see a divergence amongst the бабушки. Whilst it is not for this essay to comment on whether employment over the age of 65 has a direct effect on placing on the mood spectrum (see above), there is indeed an observable correlation between those бабушки in employment and those classed as a Type 2 бабушка.

 Graph 2

Diagram 2: Бабушки in employment by Type (data collected by author, 2013)

The most common form of profession for these бабушки is охраны: in universities and museums, for example or in metro stations in larger cities such as Moscow, St. Petersburg or Yekaterinburg. Whilst examining these data we should take into consideration that Type 2 бабушка may be more noticeable in such instances due to the nature of the Type 2 – a Type 1 will not be noticed as easily due to the lack of shouting angrily at strangers. Moreover, collecting data on Type 2 бабушки currently unemployed has thus far proven frustrating and less than fruitful at times due to a high prevalence of doors being slammed in the face of the author.

So what sort of effect does this divergence have on modern-day Russian society and how are they viewed by the population as a whole?

3.1 Positive effects of the бабушка-divergence

It seems that for many in Russia, a бабушка is a symbol of warmth and family, someone to be treasured and who will never permit an individual to leave their house without being fed to complete satiation:

 Pic 6

Evidence of feeding by Type 1 Бабушка

 As a result, the government has made sure to provide Type 1 бабушки with proper care in their old age: a resort for the care of terminally-ill бабушки has recently been established in the Black Sea region, for example (cf. Danilevich 2014).

Furthermore, the culinary prowess of бабушки that means a Russian will never leave their grandmother’s house with an empty stomach is also celebrated nationwide in Russia. Every year, all across Russia, бабушки take part in baking competitions to prove that they make the best блины с сыром. The largest such tournament can be found in Chelyabinsk where nearly 1,500 бабушки are whittled down to just 13 finalists in the ‘Ваше Велечество, Бабушка’ (Your Majesty, Grandma) tournament (cf. Anon 2014a). There are even websites devoted to recipes and homeopathic remedies passed down through the generations from бабушка to бабушка (http://babushka.ua/).

Of course, it’s not just cuisine and in recent years Type 1 бабушки have even been known to venture into the world of popular music – I refer here to the Eurovision group who finished second in Baku in 2012 and who are currently working on a new album and a tour of the Kremlin (cf. Anon 2014b).

The outspoken бабушка who can be seen leading marches and protests in Russia (see below) is one which also seemingly has a positive effect on current Russian society. However, problems have arisen in classifying these бабушки and more research needs to be conducted before we can properly class them as Type 1 or Type 2.

 Pic 10

Бабушка at a protest rally

3.2 Negative effects of the бабушка-divergence

As mentioned above, Type 2 бабушки are renowned for their disposition towards shouting at random strangers who have seemingly done nothing wrong – data collected by the author suggest that the likelihood of shouting and the volume thereof increases by ≈68.4% when the recipient is non-Russian. Though these бабушки are to be feared, it would appear, based on the evidence above, that this has in fact done little to tarnish the overall reputation of бабушки within Russia.

Type 2 бабушки have also been known to display extreme aggression (cf. Anon 2013) though these seem to be on the whole isolated instances and need to be researched more thoroughly before we can say with any certainty that this is actually a feature of Type 2 бабушки – it may be that future research will show the need for a Type 2b sub-group for such instances.

A further negative effect is the seemingly contradictory case of women who take great offence at being referred to as a бабушка. Despite being generally associated with warmth and family (see above), the term ‘бабушка’ has been known to be taken as an insult by some women in Russian, eliciting the response: Я не бабушка! (anecdotal data collected by author, Tyumen’, Tyumenskaya Oblast’, April 2013).

4. Conclusion

Whilst there is much evidence to support the ‘Theory of Бабушка-Divergence’, it should be noted that this is still a theory, and moreover one very much in its early stages. Very little research has yet been undertaken into the reasons for this divergence. All we can state with certainty at this point in time is that the divergence into Type 1 бабушки and Type 2 бкбушки does indeed existed, as evidenced above. Further analysis is particularly necessary with regards to divergence of mood. It may also prove fruitful in future to compare women of a similar age in other areas of the world to see if any sort of correlation can be established, or whether this is indeed a primarily Russian phenomenon. Overall, it seems that these women are indeed very much a core feature of Russian culture and all are to be appreciated, regardless of their Type.


Author’s note: please note this is very much a work of satire and not at all to be taken seriously. Please do not take offence at anything here, it is all meant in jest!


Anon. 2013. ‘На Кубани бабушка убида молотком непослушную внучку’, Аргументы и Факты. <http://www.kuban.aif.ru/incidents/details/495440> [23.05.14].

Anon. 2014a. ‘В Челябинске прошел первый тур конкурса “Ваше Величество, Бабушка”‘, Аргументы и Факты. <http://www.chel.aif.ru/society/people/1107707> [23.05.14].

Anon. 2014b. ‘Бурановские бабушки готовят новый альбом и выступление в Кремле’, РиА Новости. <http://ria.ru/culture/20140323/1000720729.html> [23.05.14].

Danilevich, Elena. 2014. ‘Бабушка или девушка? Сегодня курорты предлагают уникальные процедуры’, Аргументы и факты. <http://www.spb.aif.ru/health/1164510> [23.05.14].

Durham, Robert. 2014 [in press]. ‘Spinal curvature in Russian women over 65 in Tyumen’, Tyumenskaya Oblast’’, Babushka News, vol. 14, 34-67.

Statistics 1: <http://ria.ru/society/20140418/1004478479.html> [23.05.14].

Statistics 2: <http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Health/Death-rates/Men> [23.05.14].