‘Deaths of despair’ are rising


The expression “deaths of despair” was born after Princeton University economist Anne Case and Angus Deaton — Case’s colleague, husband and a Nobel laureate in economics — dug into U.S. death statistics and found that, during the 1900s, people’s life spans had generally lengthened from roughly 50 years to nearly 80. But then, near the end of the century, one segment of the population took a U-turn. Since the 1990s, mortality had risen sharply among middle-aged, non-Hispanic white people, especially those without a college degree, Case and Deaton reported in December 2015 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The reason, to a large extent: White, working-class people ages 45 to 54 were drinking themselves to death with alcohol, accidentally overdosing on opioids and other drugs, and killing themselves, often by shooting or hanging. Vanishing jobs, disintegrating families and other social stressors had unleashed a rising tide of fatal despair, Case and Deaton concluded. This disturbing trend mirrored what had previously occurred among inner-city Black people in the 1970s and 1980s, Case and Deaton now say. As low-skilled jobs vanished and families broke apart, Black victims of crack cocaine and the AIDS epidemic represented an early wave of deaths of despair. Even today, mortality rates for Black people still exceed those of white people in the United States for a variety of reasons, with Black overdose deaths on the rise over the last few years.

The most meaningful dividing line [for being at risk of deaths of despair] is whether or not you have a four-year college degree,” Deaton says.

Almost makes it seem worthwhile to get into massive debt to get a college education.

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