It’s Not Just Middle-Aged Men Who Are Dying Younger

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


That paper by Angus Deaton and Anne Case about middle-aged white men dying at higher rates seems to be having a second life, so I want to highlight something that I might have buried in my initial post about it: it’s not just middle-aged men. This is right in the paper, with a colorful chart and everything. Every single white age group, from 30 to 65, has seen a big spike in deaths from alcohol, suicide, and drug overdoses:

And it’s white women too:

The change in all-cause mortality for white non-Hispanics 45–54 is largely accounted for by an increasing death rate from external causes, mostly increases in drug and alcohol poisonings and in suicide. (Patterns are similar for men and women when analyzed separately.)

So why is everyone focusing solely on middle-aged men? Because that’s what the paper focuses on. However, the authors make it very clear that every age group is affected:

The focus of this paper is on changes in mortality and morbidity for those aged 45–54. However, as Fig. 4 makes clear, all 5-y age groups between 30–34 and 60–64 have witnessed marked and similar increases in mortality from the sum of drug and alcohol poisoning, suicide, and chronic liver disease and cirrhosis over the period 1999–2013; 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 phenomenon they describe applies to all white men and women between the ages of 30-65. The only difference among midlife white men is that declining overall mortality has turned into increasing overall mortality. Among other groups, declining mortality presumably turns flat, or perhaps declines less rapidly—though the authors don’t say.

In other words, midlife men make for a more dramatic chart because the line actually changes direction. But there’s nothing magic about zero. If you go from a slope of -5 to -1, that’s still a lot even if the line hasn’t changed direction. What’s more, whatever it is that makes the change in overall mortality bigger for midlife men, it’s not the suicide, alcohol, and drug overdoses that the authors focus on. The chart above makes that clear. In fact, the midlife group appears to have seen a smaller growth in those things than both the younger group and the older groups. This would be clearer if the chart were drawn differently, but since the authors don’t include a table with raw data, I can’t do that.

Bottom line: There’s been a sharp increase in death by suicide/alcohol/drugs among all whites of all age groups from 30-65. Whatever the reason, it’s not something that applies solely to middle-aged white men.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate