Mortality rate rising for white, middle-aged Americans

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Every other age and ethnic group has a decreasing mortality rate. For white, middle-aged Americans, the death rate is rising.

It is not the result of heart disease or diabetes either, but from a troubling increase in suicides, liver disease caused by alcoholism and heroin and opioid overdose.

The New York Times broke down the report released Monday by two Princeton economists, Angus Deaton and Anne Case, who analyzed mortality rates by age, race and ethnic group from 1999 to 2014. They focused on groups with low education.

From the Times article:

The mortality rate for whites 45 to 54 years old with no more than a high school education increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 to 2014.

The Times reports that middle-aged blacks have a mortality rate of 581 per every 100,000 people, which is still higher than the growing rate for middle-aged whites of 415 per every 100,000. But the number for black Americans is decreasing while the figure for middle-aged whites is rising. Middle-aged Hispanics have the lowest mortality rate of 262 per every 100,000.

Experts told the Times that although it’s known the heroin epidemic is a problem, they were surprised the general improvements to health care in the U.S. did not tamp down the mortality.

The economists Deaton and Case approached the suicide topic first by looking at states with reportedly high levels of happiness, and allegedly lower rates of suicide. They found that the “happier states” actually have higher suicide rates.

They found that middle-aged whites were committing suicide at an “unprecedented rate,” but that suicides alone weren’t enough to raise the mortality rate, according to the Times.

Additionally, Case found that the middle-aged group reported more pain than in the past, and more than either children or the elderly. The Times reports one-third in this group had chronic joint pain and one in seven had sciatica.

Those with the least education reported the most pain and the worst general health.

Other factors that Deaton and Case analyzed were financial distress, mental illness, difficulty socializing and difficulty walking. The pain, mental distress and poor health data added up for middle-aged whites. The economists say those factors can lead to suicide and drug abuse.

According to the Times:

[Deaton and Case] concluded that taken together, suicides, drugs and alcohol explained the overall increase in deaths. The effect was largely confined to people with a high school education or less. In that group, death rates rose by 22 percent while they actually fell for those with a college education.

Reach Stephanie Roman at sroman@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @ShogunSteph.