Posts Tagged ‘Deaths of Despair’

American optimism and deaths of despair

June 12, 2017

I always thought that optimism was a basic and unchanging part of the American national character.

My belief is shaken by the rise in “deaths of despair”—first among middle-aged (45-to 54) white Americans, more recently among prime working aged (25 to 44) Americans of all races.

“Deaths of despair” are suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol-related liver disease.  The rise is thought to be caused by the hopeless economic situation of many Americans and by the ready availability of addictive drugs.

But this can’t the whole story.   In earlier eras of American history, such as the 1890s, poverty was greater, inequality was more extreme and addictive drugs were more freely available than they are now.

Pioneer families struggling to survive in sod houses on the prairie, immigrants in ragged clothes getting off the boat on Ellis Island, let alone African-Americans and native Americans—they all were in more desperate situations than any American today.

The USA was in the midst of a depression, comparable to the Great Depression of the 1930s.  There was no social safety net.   It was possible to starve to death in New York City or any major city in the Western world.  If you couldn’t pay a doctor bill, you relied on charity or, more commonly, did without.

Opiates were sold legally.  Opium dens were found in every major city.  Heroin was a patented brand-name drug sold legally by the Bayer company.   Drunkenness was a serious social problem.

But this was an era of hope, not despair.  Workers formed labor unions and fought armed company police.   Farmers started organized the Populist movement.   Middle-class reformers started the Progressive movement.   They enacted reforms and social changes from which we Americans still benefit.

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The spread of deaths of despair in the USA

June 12, 2017

Americans in the prime years of life—aged 25 to 44—are dying at an increasing rate, and the increase is mainly due to “deaths of despair”—drug overdoses and alcohol-related disease.

I recently wrote a post about the Case-Deaton study, which shows a rise in “deaths of despair” among white Americans, especially those age 45 to 54, since 1999.

Now reporters for the Washington Post have done their own study which shows a rise in the death rate since 2010 among Americans of all races in the prime of life—age 25 to 44.

As in the Case-Deaton study, the increase is due to “deaths of despair”—drug overdoses and alcohol-related diseases.

Since 2010, death rates have risen

  • 16 percent for young white American adults.
  • 18 percent for young native American adults
  • 7 percent for young Hispanic American adults
  • 4 percent for young African-American adults
  • 3 percent for young Asian American adults.

Why is this happening?

The majority of Americans are doing badly economically.  Wages are stagnant.  Good jobs are scarce.  Many have educational, medical or other debts they never will be able to pay.

Except for the professional classes and the ultra-rich, few expect to do better economically than their parents, and few expect their children to do better than themselves.

In the past generation, some of us have been sold in the idea that medications, such as Prozac, are the solution to our psychological and personal problems.   A journalist named Robert Whitaker did a good job of documenting this in his book, Anatomy of an Epidemic, and his book and website, Mad in America.

This new respectable drug culture made it easy for Purdue Pharmaceuticals to market Oxycontin, an addictive pain killing prescription drug, and widespread use of Oxycontin made it easy for illegal drug traffickers to sell heroin as a cheap substitute.  For some, drugs provided an easier escape from dead-end lives than individual initiative or political struggle.

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Why is the Hispanic death rate lower?

June 6, 2017

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Compared to non-Hispanic whites and blacks, Hispanic Americans are survivors.

Why?

The Case-Deaton study and its new update showed that the death rate is rising among non-Hispanic white Americans while it is falling among citizens of every other important industrial nation.   Anne Case and Angus Deaton attribute this to the rise “deaths of despair”—from alcohol, drugs and suicide.

The study showed something else that I think is equally interesting.  The death rate among Hispanic Americans has always been lower than among non-Hispanic whites, and it continues to fall, in line with trends in other industrial nations.

In the chart above, the bright red line is the death rate among non-Hispanic white Americans and the bright blue line is the death rate among Hispanic Americans.

The death rate among non-Hispanic American blacks is higher than among whites, but it is falling, not rising.

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White people dying faster in Trump country

January 20, 2017

Angus Deaton, co-author with Anne Case of a study of a rising mortality rate among white American working people, has found an interesting correlation.

He told Business Insider in an interview at the World Economics Forum in Davos that there is a 0.4 correlation between US counties with elevated mortality rates for white people and counties that voted for Trump.

“If you take county-by-county in the US, and you look at what we call deaths of despair — suicides, opioids and liver disease — that it correlates by 0.4 with votes for Trump.  That’s a big correlation.  There are 3,000 counties in the US. 0.4 with these things is a very strong relationship,” Deaton told us.

In stats, 1 is a perfect correlation and 0 is no correlation at all; 0.4 is a fairly strong relationship in a dataset that size. The stats suggest that Trump somehow tapped into white despair among voters.

There are caveats, of course.

“You can put almost anything in that picture, smoking, lack of exercise … but I do think there is a lot of malaise going on here.  Whatever it is these people are unhappy, they’re left behind, some of their jobs have gone away, they’re worse off than their parents were, they’re worried about opportunities for their kids.”

Source: Business Insider

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What is killing Southern white women?

January 26, 2016

 

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Two researchers at Princeton University published a study last November indicating that the death rate for middle-aged white Americans was on the increase.

Statistical blogger Andrew Gelman analyzed the figures and concluded that the increase is concentrated among white women in the South.

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One thing he did was to adjust the figures according to age.  Not everybody in an age group, such as 55 to 64, is the same age, and changes in age distribution can skew the figures over time.

The top chart shows the results of Gelman’s adjustment and analysis.

The Princeton study said the main causes for the increased death rate were drug-related (overdoses), alcohol related (liver disease) and suicide—all indicators of despair.   An earlier study said higher mortality among white women was correlated with lack of education and heavy smoking.

Why would this affect Southerners, whites or women more than other Americans?  I don’t know.  I’m pretty sure, however, that southern white women, like other Americans, would be healthier and happier in a high-wage, full-employment economy.

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What is killing middle-aged white men? Despair

November 4, 2015

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We take it for granted that, in scientifically advanced countries, the death rate will decline.  But since 1999, there has been a dramatic increase in the death rate among non-Hispanic American white men aged 45 to 54, especially those without education beyond high school.

No such increase occurs among middle-aged white people in other countries or among other American ethnic groups.  Although the death rate for African-Americans is higher, it is not increasing, and, as the chart shows, the death rate for middle-aged Hispanic Americans (USH) is decreasing.

A Princeton University study indicates that the main reasons for the increased death rate are an increase in alcohol-related disease (liver disease), in drug overdoses (heroin and opioids) and in suicide—all diseases associated with depression and despair.

[Note added 11/13/2015: Some experts say the increase is primarily among middle-aged white women.]

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