The New York Times has a report today about two Princeton economists’ research into the increasing death rate of poorly educated, middle-aged white Americans, and the level of alarm conveyed in the story is remarkable.* To wit:
“Wow,” said Samuel Preston, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and an expert on mortality trends and the health of populations, who was not involved in the research. “This is a vivid indication that something is awry in these American households.”
Dr. Deaton had but one parallel. “Only H.I.V./AIDS in contemporary times has done anything like this,” he said.
The Princeton researchers, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, found that the mortality rate for whites 45 to 54 years old with no more than a high school education is increasing at a time at which death rates for almost all other demographic groups are falling, and that the rise is attributable to suicide and alcohol and drug abuse. Deaths from alcohol and drug poisoning in that group, one Times chart illustrates, have tripled since 2000. “Seldom have I felt as affected by a paper,” another professor told the Times about Case and Deaton’s findings. Wrote two others in a published commentary: “It is difficult to find modern settings with survival losses of this magnitude.”
*Correction, Nov. 3, 2015: This post originally misstated that the mortality rate in question is that of poor, middle-aged white men; it in fact is the rate for poorly educated middle-aged whites as a whole.