In contrast, Russia has experienced dramatic decreases in life expectancy since the early 1990s, as it moved from a centrally planned to a market economy, accompanied by a rapid rise in income inequality.
Fair enough - until we start looking at other former Communist states. Estonia, for example:
What we are seeing in these other former Communist states is quite different from Russia. While countries like Estonia do experience a short dip in life expectancies, they quickly bounce back. Hungary experiences accelerated growth in life expectancy after economic liberalisation. In the thirty years between 1960 and 1990, Czech Republic managed to add an (estimated, since it was part of Czechsolvakia back then) 1.1 year of life expectancy. In the eighteen years between 1990 and 2008, they added 6.8 years.
At first this would seem to be completely contrary to what The Spirit Level suggests, but actually Hungary and Czech Republic are still today among the most equal societies in the world. Still, Armenia isn't particularly equal, yet their decline in life expectancy happened during the Communist era, only reversing with economic liberalisation in the 1990s.
So the end of Communism is followed by starkly different scenarios in different countries. Perhaps Pickett and Wilkinson's off-hand example of Russia is misleading, when other countries apparently adapted more successfully to the free market.