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During the 1990s, the Russian Federation introduced sweeping reforms in the structure of its urban and rural economic sectors, its social sector programs, and the financial accountability of its state and service sector organizations. Price liberalization and the privatization of state enterprises have been cornerstones of these reforms. While allowing currency exchange rates to fluctuate, the Russian Republic has undertaken the difficult process of completely reforming the structure of the economy. The complexity of this undertaking ensures tremendous spatial and temporal variability in implementation.

In many sectors, rapid changes in productivity have resulted in significant changes in income, food supply, and the birth rate, as well as in disease patterns and health service utilization. Changes will create challenges in health, nutrition, family planning, and other social sector activities. Income disparities will increase but will vary greatly from region to region. Moreover, the current low fertility rate exacerbates the financial problems associated with Russia’s aging population–inevitably increasing the demand for long-term care and consequently placing the social security system in crisis. In short, the structural economic adjustments that Russia faces place a tremendous strain on all facets of the economy, including the health care system, the public education system, and the provision of labor services. Russia is expected to respond to these problems by continuing to readjust its reform policies.

The RLMS is a household-based survey designed to measure the effects of Russian reforms on the economic well-being of households and individuals. In particular, determining the impact of reforms on household consumption and individual health is essential, as most of the subsidies provided to protect food production and health care have been or will be reduced, eliminated, or at least dramatically changed. These effects are measured by a variety of means: detailed monitoring of individuals’ health status and dietary intake, precise measurement of household-level expenditures and service utilization, and collection of relevant community-level data, including region-specific prices and community infrastructure data. Data have been collected 23 times since 1992.

In the initial two years of this effort, a main goal of the RLMS was to work with the Russian State Statistical Bureau (Goskomstat) and the All-Russia Center of Preventive Medicine to upgrade the systems in place for monitoring these issues. A breakdown in the collection of statistical data was occurring throughout the former Soviet Union. In addition, it had become clear that Russian Federation data collection systems did not provide a representative profile of the economic and social dimensions of the population. In particular, adequate monitoring of the poor did not take place.

Among the accomplishments of Phase I was the creation of the first national sample frame, allowing surveys to be representative at the national level. More recently, this sample frame has been extended to develop samples representative at the regional and oblast levels.

For Phase II, begun in 1994, the RLMS switched collaborators in Russia and the emphasis of the work changed from institution-building to providing timely, high-quality information. The new RLMS sample is smaller, but the number of primary sampling units was doubled to enhance the representation of the survey. The March 1997 sampling report  provides a detailed review of the Phase II sample.

The RLMS survey instruments were designed by an interdisciplinary group of Russian and American social science and biomedical researchers with extensive experience in survey research. Particular care was taken to collect data that allow us to answer policy-relevant questions concerning the design and impact of programs and policies affecting a wide range of social sector outcomes. The survey was designed to allow various modules of questions to be included from round to round.