Since 1999, white middle-aged Americans have experienced a surprising rise in death rates. In prior decades, the trend had always been moving towards longer life expectancies.
For white men and women between the ages of 45 and 54 without a college degree, the mortality rate increased by a considerable margin between 1999 and 2013. Researchers believe that this may be caused by long term drug use and suicide.
In today’s day and age, it is extremely unusual for any major demographic group in an advanced nation to experience a large increase in their mortality rate. The only other notable example is the decrease in life expectancies in Russia after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Additionally, middle-aged white Americans have been experiencing more illnesses in recent years, causing them to miss several days of work.
Princeton economics professor and author of the study Angus Deaton said, “Drugs and alcohol, and suicide are clearly the proximate cause. Half a million people are dead who should not be dead. About 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with HIV-AIDS.”
Life expectancies have generally flourished in America since 1970. This is because smoking has declined, stronger medical treatments have been created and people are overall being proactive when it comes to living a long and healthy life.
However, this recent discovery is very troubling. If this age group continues to become increasingly sick as they reach higher ages, it is younger people who will have to bear the burden of the costs. Since people with less than a college degree make up almost half of the white population, many people fall into such a category.
Meanwhile other findings were more in line with recent trends. The death rates for black and Hispanic Americans have both declined, as did the death rate for middle-aged whites with at least a college degree.
Many experts pointed to issues of economic insecurity, the decay of communities, more unstable family lives and widespread opioid addiction as possible reasons why greater rates of middle aged white Americans without a college degree are dying. Some have said that the stress of a midlife crisis can lead to an early death.
Still, even with these seemingly reasonable hypotheses, researchers still cannot pinpoint a specific cause for this phenomenon. Time will tell if this demographic can rebound or if the problem will only continue to get worse.
But if it does it get worse, it will likely be young people who pay the price.