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Alarming Rise in Death Rates for Middle-Aged White Americans

Accepted submission by at 2015-11-03 02:50:13
Gina Kolata reports at the NYT that something startling is happening to middle-aged white Americans. Unlike every other age group, unlike every other racial and ethnic group, unlike their counterparts in other rich countries, death rates in this group have been rising, not falling, primarily because of the declining health and fortunes of poorly educated American whites [] who are dying at such a high rate that they are increasing the death rate for the entire group of middle-aged white Americans. “It is difficult to find modern settings with survival losses of this magnitude,” say Ellen Meara and Jonathan S. Skinner.

Though not fully understood, the increased deaths are largely thought to be a result of more suicides and the misuse of drugs and alcohol [], driven by easier access to powerful prescription painkillers, cheaper high quality heroin and greater financial stresses. Death rates for people with a high school education or less rose by 22 percent while they actually fell for those with a college education. The rise in death rates among middle-aged white Americans means half a million more people have died in the US since 1998 than if the previous trend had continued. The death toll is comparable to the 650,000 Americans who lost their lives during the Aids epidemic from 1981 to the middle of this year, the researchers say. Anne Case and Angus Deaton warn that middle-aged Americans who are turning to drink and drugs are set to suffer more health problems than their elders unless the downwards trend can be halted. "This is not automatic. If the epidemic is brought under control, its survivors may have a healthy old age. However, addictions are hard to treat and pain is hard to control, so those currently in midlife may be a ‘lost generation’ whose future is less bright [] than those who preceded them.”

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