MIDDLE-AGED WHITE AMERICAN MEN WITH HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION ARE DYING FROM DESPAIR

Middle-Aged White Men/Demographics Mental Health

Death rates are rising for middle-aged white American men. It’s unlike every other age group, every other racial and ethic group and unlike their counterparts in other rich countries.

Angus Deaton, Princeton Economist, 2015 Nobel Peace Memorial Prize in Economic Service, and Anne Case, also a Princeton Economist discovered the hypothesis about this group of middle-aged American men dying earlier than in any other place in the developed world. (1)

They feel left out. Their opinions don’t count.

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.

The data for the report was collected from surveys and reports including from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 1999 to 2014. The final paper was published in 2015, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Of note, deaths caused by drug and alcohol rose fourfold; suicides rose by 81%.

Death caused by alcohol-related liver disease and cirrhosis rose by 50%.

Some of the deaths can be blamed on job loss and financial problems. An estimated number of deaths during this time is one-half million.

Other factors listed in the study leading to the poor health of middle-aged American men included:

  • Pessimistic outlook about their financial future

    Reinventing Yourself Is Difficult

  • More pain in recent years
  • One-third in the group reported they had chronic joint pain
  • One in seven said they had sciatica
  • Inflation adjusted fell by 19%
  • Increased number with mental illness or developing mental illness (depression, anxiety, panic)
  • Difficulty in socializing
  • Increased number said they were unable to work.

The death rates for middle-aged Hispanics and black men, as well as those age 65 and over in all racial and ethnic groups, have continued to decline. (The death rate for middle-aged whites continued to climb. The death rate for middle-aged Hispanics is well below both groups.) (2)

The findings of these alarming numbers in middle-aged white American males have never been captured before.

In a commentary published along with the study, two Dartmouth economists noted that the inflation-adjustment income for households headed by high school graduates fell by 19 percent during the years analyzed. 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. (3)

If nothing is done, does this mean more middle-life American men will age into Medicare in worse shape than the elderly today and despair will be the reason why?

I feel deeply saddened by this research.

What are your thoughts on this problem? Do you believe there’s hope that our country can reverse this plague against white middle-aged American men who find themselves without a technical or college education.

(1) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/03/health-death-rates-rising-for-middle-aged

(2)http://blog:aarp/org/2015/11/09/the-despair-that’s-killing-white-middle-aged-Americans

(3)http://blog:aarp/org/2015/11/09/the-despair-that’s killing-white-middle-aged-Americans

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About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
Aside | This entry was posted in Advocacy, Author Opinion, Mental Health, One Woman's Opinion and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to MIDDLE-AGED WHITE AMERICAN MEN WITH HIGH SCHOOL EDUCATION ARE DYING FROM DESPAIR

  1. This IS saddening news. This level of despair among this demographic just might have propelled Donald Trump to the White House. I don’t see him making their lives better, but I actually hope he proves me wrong. What is more important than a feather in the president’s top hat is real hope and an alleviation from suffering for these millions of men.

  2. The solution may be education. But … it’s a challenge for any middle age person to go from a high school diploma to a being able to write code at the level of good programmer.

  3. I found your blog about a year ago during one of the toughest period of my life. I’m not a veteran (4F. embarrassingly so). Maybe another kind of veteran. A paralyzed stroke survivor who’s wife is beginning to experience dementia. We take care of each other. Our ‘complementary’ handicaps. What can I say.

    I try to keep myself sane by writing a blog, http://www.leagueofgrey.wordpress.com. I think we communicated back then, but another round of illness laid me low. Back writing again and it feels good.
    Keep up the good work. And thank you.

  4. GP Cox says:

    Sheri – I sure hope the Little Rock VA sees my post today – my small way of saying thank you to them.

    • G.P. – I’m just now getting back to the blog but I’ll let the coordinator know of your post. Many thanks to you for remembering them. I’m rarely there, with the advancement of Tom’s illness, but the programs remain in place and that makes me happy.

  5. tonyroberts says:

    This is fascinating research. I’d enjoy hearing informed analysis on why this could be. I wonder if one reason is the definition of maleness has changed and many men sense their contributions to family and community is no longer desired.

    • Hi, Tony. Thanks for dropping by. From the reading I’ve done and the sources I cited, I haven’t discovered the ‘definitition of maleness’ and ‘contributions to family and community’ to be a part of the reason why uneducated men are feeling such despair. From the points I listed from the New York Times and AARP the despair of these men is so great it draws them to drugs, alcholol and other negative behaviors due to their own pain. I personally would dislike seeing a society wherein the male contribution is not appreciated or considered an important part of family life.

  6. Hi Sheri, in the UK too and certainly in my area, it is often middle aged men who are most at risk of suicide. One of the explanations given is that the decline of heavy industries such as ship-building, mining, etc. with their associated values and cultures have left men in these areas with a crisis in identity and purpose.

  7. Sheri….very unnerving and I don’t see an end in sight….glad you shared the information…I think it is intricately tied into work identity and financial stability. Things are changing at a faster and faster pace and a person does have to continue to “reinvent” themselves to keep up. Surfacing an issue is the first step in seeking a solution…again…thank you for sharing!

    • Thanks for stopping by, Kirt. I’m with you in not seeing an end in turning the epidemic around. I’ve done a lot of mentoring and if a kid doesn’t want help at the jr. high or high school level, they almost always drop out of school before they finish.

  8. It’s shocking to see this. I didn’t know. But once I read it, I’m not surprised. Can it be reversed? I would hope so. Will it? There is never an easy answer for these things. “We” think of answers and solutions from our perspective but the changes and implementation are of course never easy. I’m nodding along to many of the comments….feeling more perplexed and concerned then before I read this post.

    • It’s a tough situation and makes me think what steps I must take as a grandparent and mentor to students in the local area to help them continue in an upward stance. I’m convinced this can be prevented if stopped in the path but once a kid drops out of high school, they have so many licks against them, it’s hard to know which way to go to assist them (even if they want assistance).

  9. cindy knoke says:

    Sheri, read “Hillbilly Elegy,” by JD Vance which is nothing short of a brilliant analysis of this heartbreaking reality.

  10. ksbeth says:

    this is a terrible situation and something that needs to be addressed. i once saw a presentation given by temple grandin, (famous autistic adult who tells her story in support of people with challenges everywhere.) she shared with us her wisdom – that it is so important to support your child in their path to adulthood, not necessarily college, but with something they have an affinity for. if they are naturally good at mechanics why not go that route? etc. – help them to become a working member of the community/world? to contribute to give back – why force them onto a track that would only end up frustrating them and doing no good for anyone. the fact that these men are suffering due to their paths is horrible.

    • Good point, Beth. One of the sociologist I interviewed while researching this article gave insight into the numbers. She believes lack of family support among the non-graduating white men is a primary cause for the acceleration of deaths among white men. She further commented there’s almost always someone in the hispanic or black community that will look out for the individual in their family while this person is often absent for the white individual.

  11. This is heartbreaking news. Thanks for bringing it to our attention, Sheri

  12. Never heard of this, and it is concerning. Industry needs to remember that high school education is good qualifications for lots of jobs. Maybe high schools need to remember that too. ‘College and career’ doesn’t mean just college.

    • I’m equally alarmed by the number of college educated individuals we have that are unemployed or under-employed. Some of the larger high schools have become tech savy to help students be ready for working with robots and the like. Unfortunately, this opportunity is spread far too thin. I’ve often thought we need more accessibility to Tech Schools.
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. You are correct in that a high school education is a good qualification for many jobs.

    • Which jobs are a high school education sufficient for in the LONG term?

  13. GP Cox says:

    I did not have a clue this was going on. You raise quite a few points of interest too. And I don’t really see how the trend can be stopped. That’s a bit scary!

  14. >>> “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.

    • Robert – All of your points are valid. We’re constantly reminded manufacturing has jobs that are unfilled because they don’t have a trained ‘labor group’ to pull from.
      The ‘middle class’ jobs you refer to are all but gone and have been replaced by robots and computers with a technician guiding much of the work.
      I often hear that someone will not move to keep a job or to have a job. We all have reasons we like we stay where we are but sometimes that’s not possible to stay gainfully employed. I believe in the years ahead, we’re going to see a more mobile workforce or we’ll see even more people out of work. Work from home seems to be turning into work from home + work on the road. That brings about an entirely new set of problems.

      • Exactly, Sheri. Those memes repeated by business interests (which you cited) single-mindedly – and callously, IMO – ignore the very essence of human nature. We are inclined towards stability and certainty, not mobility and uncertainty. We are no longer roaming hunter-gatherers. Mobile families are few and far between because they just don’t work. Someone, somewhere (i.e. our institutional leaders) needs to recognize that without a stable family structure, society – and perhaps even civilization – will break down.

  15. Wow – this is surprising. I would never have known these facts, had you not written this post, Sheri.
    My husband falls in this age group. You wonder what can be done to help them. And why is this happening now?

    • Patti – When I was reading the research surrounding this material there were so many variables as to why this demographic dies of despair more than any like set of similar male demographics. Like you, I couldn’t help but wonder why despair was happening at such a rapid rate while those of other nationalities seem programmed to cope much better.I know the inability to find meaningful employment can be a big factor and then often volatile relationships between labor and management occur. It’s definitely a complex problem. Thanks for lending your thoughts.

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