The rising annual death rates are being driven by despair, as reported by the scientists Drs. Deaton and Case. The demographics for their study were white men between 45 to 54 years old with only a high school education. The mortality rates for those with no more than a high school education increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 to 2014.
Deaton and Case concluded the group they analyzed did not die by the big killers like heart disease and cancer but by an epidemic of suicides and afflictions stemming from substance abuse: alcoholic liver disease and overdoses of heroin and prescription opioids.
Commentary by The Secular Jurist: I highly recommend reading this insightful article for it indirectly explains the unexpected outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Here’s my answer to the question posed at the end of the post:
>>> “However, this doesn’t completely explain why the surge in deaths occurred only among white men and not black or Hispanic males, who also faced serious economic problems during the same time period.”
I’m just speculating here, but until more psychological research is done on this somewhat surprising trend, it will have to suffice.
1) The economic impacts of the Great Recession, globalization, automation, and the other factors which have hit the American middle class very hard, were disproportionately felt by white males in this age group because it was they who had benefited most from the post-WW2 prosperity boom. The unionized blue-collar manufacturing jobs which symbolized the American Dream and which were predominately held by high school-educated white males are now all but gone.
2) As America has become more politically polarized in recent years, it has created cultural schisms within the population. White middle-age males tend to be more conservative while females and ethnic minorities tend to be more liberal. This appears, at least anecdotally, to be negatively affecting marital relationships in white families. I have seen this happen repeatedly in my community. The stress of separation, divorce, child support, and isolation, coupled with the financial hardship detailed in my first point, may be too much to bear for many men in such circumstances. They often resort to drug and alcohol abuse, destructive behavior, and even suicide.