Friday, March 31, 2017

Deaths rise from hopelessness in middle age

For many white citizens without a university degree, life in America has been transformed in a few decades from a society that offered many economic opportunities to a socio-economic deadlock.

That is what the research of Princeton University economists Anne Case and Nobel laureate Angus Deaton, who in 2015 grabbed the attention of all the media when they presented their conclusion that the mortality rate of Middle-aged white Americans have increased significantly since 1999, and are above their peers from other races and other developed countries. 

 Deaths rise from hopelessness in middle age
Now, researchers say they have a better understanding of what is causing these "hopeless deaths" through suicide, drugs, and alcohol.

What is the cause of the phenomenon

In a follow-up to their innovative work two years ago, they say that the lack of stable and well-paid employment for white adults without university degrees has caused pain, anxiety and social dysfunction to increase over time. The mortality rate for this group, aged 45-54, increased by one-half percent each year between 1999 and 2013.

In contrast, middle-aged white people with university degrees have not suffered the same lack of economic opportunity and do not experience loss of hope in life, according to the latest study by Case and Deaton recently published in Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.

Among adults who have not yet attained professional training, the world of work has hardened. These days of a healthy job market no longer exist for high school graduates, who enjoyed strong social ties through marriage, religion, and parenting. All this has also changed.

Today, white people less prepared at the educational level, face a lukewarm demand for labor and their wages have stagnated. To top it off, the opioid consumption crisis adds "fuel to the flames," Case and Deaton write.

A scourge across the country

The rebound in mortality rates began in the southwest but has now spread across the country, and no area is exempt. 

"We like to make the comparison between Nevada and Utah to see how good health behaviors lead to a longer life. Two-thirds of the people of Utah are Mormons: they do not drink, they do not smoke, and they do not drink tea or coffee. On the other hand, two-thirds of Nevada's citizens live in paradise in Las Vegas, where there is a little more of everything, and death rates from heart disease are twice as high there as in Utah, "Case said. An interview with NPR.

But both states are among the top 10 of sad deaths. Utah is grappling with the opioid crisis, and suicide rates are also rising there. 

While low wages and limited employment opportunities are crucial factors, the authors emphasize that globalization and automation are the root causes of the rising mortality rates of non-professional white adults. Some researchers find that technology that replaces human labor has already negated many types of work traditionally performed by this group.

How heavily have the lives of white Americans with secondary education changed? In 1999, this demographic group had mortality rates that were approximately 30% lower than those of African Americans. But by 2015, their death rate had eclipsed that of 30 percent, according to Case and Deaton. They blame increased mortality rates for alcohol and drug intoxication, suicide (for hopelessness), alcoholic liver disease, and cirrhosis.

As for Hispanics, they have always had lower mortality rates than whites. And mortality rates were always higher and life expectancy shorter for African Americans than for whites. What is happening now is that the gap is closing between different ethnic groups and for some, it is actually reversed, the authors said.

So people, for lack of opportunity, either quickly with a gun or slowly with drugs and alcohol, is killing, said Case and Deaton.

"The lack of hope in that sector of the population affects all aspects of life, such as marriage, child health, parenting, and religion," they added. Marriage rates among high school graduates have collapsed, leaving the institution as something that only those with college degrees enjoy, according to the Pew Research Center.

The scourge of opioids made things worse, the authors said. "If our general account is correct, the epidemic will not be easily or quickly reversed, nor can white, now middle-aged adults, be expected to arrive as well at age 65 as the current elderly," they concluded.

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