by Comprehensive Staff
A recent study by Princeton economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case found that death rates are on the rise for middle-aged white Americans, particularly those with lower educational levels. Looking at mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Deaton and Case discovered that although the middle-aged mortality rate had been decreasing at approximately 2% per year across all racial groups since the late 1970s, that trend reversed after 1998 for white Americans. While the mortality rate for middle-aged Americans in other racial groups continues to decline, the mortality rate for middle-aged whites is rising at approximately 0.5% per year. This trend is confined to middle age (ages 45-54); mortality rates for whites in other age groups continue to decrease.
In analyzing the overall rising death rate for middle-aged whites, Deaton and Case looked at causes of death. Though we are more aware of deaths from major illnesses like diabetes or heart disease, the authors determined that the largest increases came from drug and alcohol poisonings, suicides, and chronic liver disease. In fact, the increase from suicide and substance abuse-related complications is so extreme that it raised the overall death rate for this group, even as deaths from other causes decline. Additionally, this rise is also largely confined to those with a high school diploma or less: the rate of death from suicide and substance abuse increased nearly 22% between 1998 and 2013 for the least-educated while the rate for those with higher educational attainment changed very little.
The study’s authors did not make any definitive conclusions about what is driving this increase in death rates among lower-educated middle-aged whites. (You can read more analysis in this New York Times article). Though the opioid crisis, the economy, mental illness, and chronic pain all have a place in the discussion of root causes of the increasing death rate, most of us have little ability as individuals to make a dent in those issues. However, what we can work on is preventing loss of life. Deaths by suicide and substance use are preventable. Knowing the warning signs of suicide and understanding the treatment options for addictions can literally be the difference between life and death. If you’re interested in suicide prevention training, contact Jim Pinnell at 573-3607 for more information about our SAFE program.