Why the rise of death rates among Caucasians is way more complex than the pundits would have you believe.
By now even casual observers of the news know that the rate of death among white, middle-aged Americans is rising – a trend that isn’t seen in similar countries. The news followed a widely circulated paper published online Nov. 2, and members of the media were quick to attribute the trend to several factors, from despair to a lack of social services to economic opportunity.
Pundits on both sides of the political aisle used the study to further their own narratives. From the left came the cry that this was a result of pro-business policies that have engendered a new era of income inequality. The right used the study to repeat the mantra that the decline of the prototypical, husband-wife, two-child family was to blame.
But it’s hardly that simple or singular. A closer look at the study and other surrounding data on mortality show that initial reports may have missed the mark on identifying which people are most affected by rising death rates, and that extenuating factors such as gender, educational attainment or geography may offer additional context to the headline-grabbing report.
Written by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, the report found mortality rates for whites began rising in 1999 and continued to do so through 2013. The rise was driven by drug and alcohol overdoses, suicide, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis.
“A serious concern is that those currently in midlife will age into Medicare in worse health than the current elderly,” Case and Deaton wrote in the paper, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.