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Right, Who's Off To Latvia?

Dave Beans

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wo decades after Latvia shook off Soviet communist rule, the country's women have survived the transition to capitalism better than men - they are better educated and are less likely to die young. But a high male mortality rate means for many women, it is hard to find a partner.

Dania and Zane are both single and have come to a cafe in the centre of Riga to chat about one of their favourite topics - the lack of decent men.

The two women are both 29, beautiful, stylish and well-educated, but it seems that in Latvia there are simply not enough eligible men to go round.

Dania has been working at a film festival where 98% of her colleagues are women.

Latvia's gender divide:

* There are almost 9,000 more men than women in the under-30s age group

* There are 3,000 more women aged 30-39 than men

* The country has 8% more women than men

* Women live 11 years longer on average, the highest disparity in the EU

"There's nothing wrong with that... but just for the good balance you would want to have some more men to flirt or chat with. It's just more interesting," she laughs.

"That's why all my friends have gone abroad and found boyfriends there," agrees Zane.

Gender imbalance

Female students outside the University of Latvia Women are finding it harder to meet a partner with an equal level of education

A high early male mortality rate means that there are 8% more women than men in the country.

In the busy entry hall of the University of Latvia, Riga, the gender imbalance is visible.

According to sociologist and lecturer Baiba Bela, there are 50% more women enrolled there than men.

She says this means that women often find it harder to find a partner with an equal level of education.

The smartest girls are alone. The really beautiful girls are alone - if they are smart”

Dace Ruksane Lilit magazine editor-in-chief

And by the time women want to settle down, men are dying younger and are four times more likely to commit suicide.

"The first time the gender imbalance appears is between 30 and 40," Baiba explains.

"In this age group the mortality for men is three times higher than the same age group for women."

"Car driving, alcoholism and accidents in the workplace are mainly riskier for men than for women," she adds.

Among the under-30s, there are almost 9,000 more men than women. But between the ages of 30-39, there are almost 3,000 more women than men.

Women live 11 years longer than men, the highest disparity of life expectancy between the sexes in the EU.

'Macho' culture

Agris Rieksts, a 28-year-old software engineer, says there is still a macho culture in Latvia which encourages risky behaviour, such as fast driving, smoking and especially heavy drinking.

"It is kind of perceived that it is manly, that the more alcohol you can handle, the more of a man you are," he says.

"Everybody understands that it is kind of absurd. But it is still there."

Psychoanalyst Ansis Stabingis, who treats men for depression and suicidal tendencies, says Latvia's transition to capitalism 20 years ago suddenly put massive pressures on men to succeed financially.

The economic crisis, which has pushed unemployment up to 20%, has made those ambitions even more unattainable.

There are demands about how [men] should live. And if they cannot meet those standards, they… fall into depression”

Ansis Stabingis Psychoanalyst

As a result, according to the Latvian government, when the crisis hit in 2008, suicide levels which were already one of the highest in the EU, went up by 16%.

"There are demands about how [men] should live. And if they cannot meet those standards, they… fall into depression," Ansis says.

"And then they start to use some alcohol or some gambling because they cannot solve that problem," he adds.

Currently, more than 80% of suicide deaths are men.

Ansis believes that Latvian women sometimes prove more resilient when faced with a desperate situation. They are more likely than men to ask for professional help.

And with the highest rate of single mothers in the EU, he says women tend to keep going for the sake of their children.

Husband material

But looking after a family alone can also make it more difficult to find a partner.

Dace Ruksane has spent her career looking long and hard at the issue.

She is seen by many to be the Latvian version of fictional character Carrie Bradshaw from Sex And The City. She is a sex columnist, author, and editor-in-chief of one of the country's most successful women's magazines, Lilit.

"The smartest girls are alone. The really beautiful girls are alone - if they are smart," Dace says.

"They want to find partners who are equal to them. But a man, having all this choice, doesn't need to be very perfect.

"He just sits in front of the TV and knows he can get a woman. And if she doesn't suit him, he will get another.

"Smart women simply don't want to have such men as their partners," she adds.

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I know a few people who have been to Riga. Apparently the birds are as amazing as everyone says.

I'd say it's true of eastern and central Europe in general. The women tend to be nicer looking, slimmer, better educated, and have less of the 'because I'm worth it' attitude of their western counterparts.

My gf is from Hungary and says the problem with Hungarian men is they tend to be 'either boys or animals'. Eg, they are either really geeky, Woody Allen types, or vodka swilling macho types. Men who can steer a path between those two extremes will be popular.

Women in their 30s, even very attractive ones, tend to be viewed as 'on the shelf' by the men also.

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Oh man, that's it - I'm going.

(my link above broke - it was of some bare painted ladies from Riga.)

In Hungary at least, the women do expect to be treated like ladies. That doesn't mean spending loads of money on them, just being chivalrous. Basically the sort of things that Millie Tant would kick you in the nuts for over here. Holding doors, pulling out chairs etc.

In general I'd say I prefer the outlook on life there. There isn't the constant belittling of men and the 'Superwoman' obsession that there is in the west. Sure there are golddiggers, but there are an awful lot of just nice, girl next door types too.

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