Suicides and drug overdoses on the rise prompted researchers to investigate the mortality rates.
After decades of declining rates, the number of middle aged white Americans dying is on the increase and scientists are asking why, says a report on npr.org.
Researchers Angus Deaton and his wife, Anne Case, both Princeton economists, found that the mortality rate among whites of middle age, increased by a half-percent to 415.4 per 100,000 people in 2013, from 381.5 per 100,000 in 1999. The most recent year in which data was available was 2013.
Deaton and Case looked at information from the CDC and many other sources, including data from other countries, after noting an upsurge in suicides and drug overdoses among the middle-age white group.
Saying the turnaround in the trend was “extraordinary,” Deaton and Case concluded that an additional 488,500 Americans passed away during the time frame that would have not died if the death rate had not reversed itself.
Among all groups, the mortality rate in the United States has fallen about 2 percent per year since the 1970’s. The rate for African Americans is high at 581.9 per 100,000, and Hispanics are doing better at 269.6 deaths per 100,000 people.
Noting that the research team did not see the same trend in other Western countries, the researchers say it appears to be driven by those with the least amount of education in the U.S.
Deaton said, “Those are the people who have really been hammered by the long-term economic malaise. Their wages in real terms have been going down. So they get into middle age having their expectations just not met at all.”