Study reveals rate of midlife mortality skyrocketing in middle-aged white Americans

If you needed a pick-me-up today, I’m sorry.

Princeton professors Ann Case and Angus Deaton appeared on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition on Thursday to speak about their 2015 paper that found an unprecedented increase in midlife mortality in white Americans.

According to NPR, Case and Deaton are attributing the increase to “deaths of despair,” defined as deaths due to drugs, alcohol and suicide.

According to 2015 Census data, Maine is slightly less than 95 percent white. Further, maps tracking “deaths of despair” show a large increase in Maine. In 2000, most areas of the state fell between the 0-25 and 25-50 deaths. In 2014, that grew to 50-75 and 100 or more. This bump shouldn’t be surprising, as Maine has been in the thick of the opioid crisis.

Case told NPR that these deaths aren’t isolated, but have come alongside other factors.

These deaths of despair have been accompanied by reduced labor force participation, reduced marriage rates, increases in reports of poor health and poor mental health. So we are beginning to thread a story in that it’s possible that [the trend is] consistent with the labor market collapsing for people with less than a college degree.

Deaton also cited the changing job markets as a “precondition” to deaths of despair.

If you go back to the early ’70s when you had the so-called blue-collar aristocrats, those jobs have slowly crumbled away and many more men are finding themselves in a much more hostile labor market with lower wages, lower quality and less permanent jobs. That’s made it harder for them to get married. They don’t get to know their own kids. There’s a lot of social dysfunction building up over time. There’s a sense that these people have lost this sense of status and belonging. And these are classic preconditions for suicide.

The study also found that white Americans with a high school diploma or less have the highest mortality rate. Deaton told NPR:

If you compare whites with a high school degree or less with blacks with a high school degree or less, their mortality rates have converged. It’s as if poorly educated whites have now taken over from blacks as the lowest rung of society in terms of mortality rates.

You can find full interview with Case and Deaton embedded below.