Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Why Are Some of Us Dying Younger?

Without meaning to, I'm continuing on the theme of people dying too young. MinnPost's Susan Perry today told of a recent study that found white people 45–54 years of age are dying at an increasing rate over the past 15 years, compared to earlier years and compared to other demographic groups. Basically, everyone else is becoming less likely to die.

Perry's write-up doesn't mention a gender breakdown, but I wonder if it's men in that age group who are skewing the numbers.

The findings are startling, for in other racial and ethnic groups and in all other age groups, deaths rates continued to improve in the United States during that same time period. Furthermore, no other wealthy country has experienced a similar turnaround in the death rate for its middle-aged adults, the study’s authors report....

Exactly why white middle-aged Americans have experienced such a marked reversal in their death rate is not entirely clear, but the study suggests three main factors: substance abuse (alcohol, prescription opioids and heroin), suicide and chronic liver disease.

The study also found that the increase in the death rate among white middle-aged adults is occurring mostly among less educated Americans, those with a high school degree or less.
Closing the longevity gap the wrong way

Perry continues,
The data revealed that the overall mortality rate for all middle-aged Americans fell 44 percent between 1970 and 2013 — an average of 2 percent a year. Similar drops also occurred in other wealthy countries....

But that is not what has happened for white Americans aged 45 to 54. After 1998, their death rate began to climb an average of half a percent a year, the analysis by Deaton and Case revealed. That reversal did not happen in any other wealthy country. Nor did it happen to Hispanic middle-aged Americans, whose death rate declined an average of 1.8 percent per year from 1998 to 2013, or to black Americans, whose rate declined an average of 2.6 percent per year during that same period.

The mortality rate for middle-aged black Americans is still higher (581.9 per 100,000), however, than for whites (415.4 per 100,000), but that gap is narrowing. Middle-aged Hispanic Americans have a significantly lower mortality rate than either their white or black peers — 269.6 per 100,000.
As I've noted before, Latinos are less likely to die early than anyone else in this country. Black folks have the shortest life spans, but white folks are closing the gap because of this sudden shift.

Maybe it's the loss of pensions?

The study authors examine a bunch of possible explanations.
...drug and alcohol poisonings overtook lung cancer in 2011 as the leading cause of death among white middle-aged Americans. Suicides are about to follow.

The study also found that middle-aged white adults are reporting a greater decline in physical and mental health and a greater increase in chronic pain than did previous generations at this age. In addition, these health problems are making it more difficult for them to work or to carry out daily living tasks....

Deaton and Case say the disturbing trends uncovered by their study may have their roots in the economic insecurity of the middle class that has been building up in the United States over the past few decades.

“After the productivity slowdown in the early 1970s, and with widening income inequality, many of the baby-boom generation are the first to find, in midlife, that they will not be better off than were their parents,” they write. “Growth in real median earnings has been slow for this group, especially those with only a high school education.”

Still, as the economists point out, other wealthy countries have experienced even slower growth in median earnings, “yet none have had the same mortality experience.”

Deaton and Case suggest one potential explanation for this difference: “The United States has moved primarily to defined-contribution pension plans with associated stock market risk, whereas, in Europe, defined-benefit pensions are still the norm. Future financial insecurity may weigh more heavily on US workers, if they perceive stock market risk harder to manage than earnings risk, or if they have contributed inadequately to defined-contribution plans.”
Stress, stress, stress. Loss of status as middle-class people, loss of sureness about the future... so many variables. Or, the snarky voice in my head says, maybe it's all the fear-mongering from Fox News that's contributing. Fifteen years ago just about marks the rise of Fox as a major force in our politics. Living with the chicken heart every day takes a toll.

1 comment:

Gina said...

I wonder if the U.S. situation concerning medical insurance also contributes? I also suspect that work expectations are a contributing factor, not only to the stress levels but to the alcohol and drug abuse leading to death.