A new paper by Angus Deaton and Anne Case has gotten a lot of attention for showing that mortality among middle-aged whites has increased over the past two decades in the United States, driven primarily by an increase in suicides, alcohol abuse, and drug overdoses. Everywhere else it’s continued to go down. The chart on the right tells the story. I’ve helpfully annotated it to suggest that perhaps the crisis is over for the time being.
But the paper is being misreported. It’s not just middle-aged whites. It’s all whites. The chart below tells the real story: every age group from 30 to 65 has shown a steep increase in mortality. So why focus just on middle-aged whites? “The midlife group is different only in that the sum of these deaths is large enough that the common growth rate changes the direction of all-cause mortality.” In other words, the midlife group makes for a more dramatic chart. But every age group has shown a similar trend.
The increase is dominated by whites with a high-school education or less. They’re reporting more pain, taking more opioid painkillers, abusing alcohol more, and killing themselves more. Why? So far, we don’t really know.
UPDATE: The chart below was originally titled “White Male Mortality by Age Group.” In fact, it applies to all whites, both men and women. I’ve corrected the title.