Enough With the Middle-Age Whites, Already

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


In a Washington Post column over the weekend, Fareed Zakaria wrote this:

In a well-known paper, economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case found that over the past 15 years, one group — middle-age whites in the United States — constitutes an alarming trend. They are dying in increasing numbers.

I suppose I’m tilting at windmills here, but this misconstrual of the Case/Deaton paper really bugs me. It’s not “middle aged” whites who are dying of drug and alcohol poisonings, suicide, and chronic liver disease in vastly greater numbers. The chart on the right is taken directly from data in the Case/Deaton paper, and it shows two groups with outsize increases in mortality: 30-34 year olds and 50-59 year olds. So there are three age cohorts here. Roughly speaking, one cohort was born in the early 50s and shows big problems; another was born in the 60s and shows only moderate problems; and the third was born in the early 70s and once again shows big problems.

These cohorts might change if you examine the data using different age buckets, different diseases, and a different timeframe. Who knows? Regardless, if you’re going to put forward an explanation about why this is happening, it better account for all three age groups. You can’t just pretend the data points only to “middle-age” whites and then spin your theories from that.

Oh, and the paper is by Case and Deaton, not Deaton and Case. Either way, though, I sure wish one of them would step in to correct this.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

FACT:

Mother Jones was founded as a nonprofit in 1976 because we knew corporations and the wealthy wouldn't fund the type of hard-hitting journalism we set out to do.

Today, reader support makes up about two-thirds of our budget, allows us to dig deep on stories that matter, and lets us keep our reporting free for everyone. If you value what you get from Mother Jones, please join us with a tax-deductible donation today so we can keep on doing the type of journalism 2020 demands.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight 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

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.