HEADLINES Published November4, 2015 By Bernadette Strong

Death Rates for White Middle-Aged Americans Are Rising

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Two economists have discovered that the death rate for white middle-aged Americans is rising.
(Photo : Dan Kitwood, Getty Images)

Death rates for white middle-aged Americans are rising, according to a report by two economists. This rise in death rates is not happening in any other age group, or racial or ethnic group, nor is it happening in other developed countries around the world. 

The report is by Dr. Angus Deaton and Dr. Anne Case of Princeton University. Deaton is the recipient of the 2015 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science. They came to their conclusions after analyzing health and mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other sources. Looking at the data they collected, they concluded that the rising death rate in white-middle-aged Americans is due to an epidemic of suicides and afflictions that stem from substance abuse rather than the usual causes of high mortality such as diabetes and heart disease.  Substance abuse deaths include those due to alcoholic liver disease and to overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.

Deaton and Case concluded that suicides, drugs, and alcohol explain the overall increase in deaths in this group, and the increase is largely confined to a subgroup: white middle-aged people who were not educated beyond high school. In that subgroup, death rates rose by 22% while they actually fell for those with a college education. The mortality rate for whites aged 45 to 54 who did not go beyond a high school education has increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 to 2014.

The death rate for middle-aged blacks and Hispanics declined during the same period, as did death rates for younger and older people of all races and ethnic groups. Middle-aged blacks still have a higher mortality rate than whites (581 per 100,000, compared with 415 for whites), but this gap between those two groups is closing. The death rate for middle-aged Hispanics, at 262 per 100,000, is far lower than that for middle-aged whites.

Deaton and Case found that people in this demographic group are dying at such a high rate that they are increasing the death rate for the entire group of middle-aged white Americans.

There is only one comparison for such a large increase in the death rate for a given group of people, Deaton said in an interview with The New York Times. "Only HIV/AIDS in contemporary times has done anything like this."

Their report was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

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