From Russia, Without Love: Is the Former USSR the Least Romantic Place on Earth?

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Whether you spent Valentine's Day curled up with your special someone or with a book, you can be thankful for one thing: you don't live in Armenia. (Sorry, Armenia!).

Matters of the heart typically defy rational explanation, but that hasn't stopped economist super-couple Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers from crunching the numbers on which countries love the most and the least. It turns out love is a little less mysterious in the aggregate than in the particular -- in other words, you can just ask lots of people about it. And that's exactly what Gallup did in 2006 when it asked people from 136 countries whether they had "experienced love for a lot of the day yesterday". As you can see in the chart below from Wolfers, love is a daily phenomenon for most people in most countries ... but aside from that, it's hard to say much. 
CountryLove.png
As Wolfers points out, there's a weak, though statistically-significant, relationship between GDP-per-capita and love, but it doesn't explain too much of what's going on here (though maybe the answer is the outline looks like a heart?). After all, Japan reports 50 percent less affection than Rwanda, despite being 25 times richer.

While there might not be an economic variable tying together loveless countries, but there is a historical one: they used to be part of the USSR. Indeed, post-Soviet states make up 14 of the 20 least-loving countries in the world, with Armenia and its 29.1 percent love rate setting the standard for unfeeling. (Turkmenistan was the only ex-USSR country not polled). Something about the experience of Soviet communism seems to have made these countries less tenderhearted today. As you can see in the chart below, which compares former Eastern bloc and Soviet countries, love is something of a scarce commodity in ex-communist societies, particularly so in the ex-USSR.

(Note: Eastern bloc countries are in blue; Soviet ones are in red).

CommunistLove.png

The sample size is vanishingly small, but reported love was actually higher in currently Communist Cuba and Vietnam, at 81.7 and 79.4 percent, respectively. Now, this higher level of affection might just be about culture, or it might also be about the transition out of communism. In other words, the kind of "shock therapy" that eastern Europe tried -- quickly privatizing and deregulating their economies -- might be so jarring that it disconnects people from one another. This is, of course, highly speculative, but what did you expect when we turned the dismal science on love?

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Matthew O'Brien

Matthew O'Brien is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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