Rising Death Rates Among White Americans 45-54-Year Old

Majid Ali, M.D.

Rising Deaths Due to Suicide, Drug and Alcohol Abuse, and Liver Disease

2015: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

1999 to 2013

White Americans Aged  45 to 54 Years — 1999 to 2013

Yearly Rise in Death Rate

0.5% Every Year

Black, Hispanic, Younger and Older White Americans   

Yearly Decrease in Death Rate           2% Every Year

Cumulative Rises and Falls in Death Rates

White Americans                        7%   Drop

Non-White American                   18% Rise

The Science Acadamy: Report reveals a “startling rise” in the death rate of white middle-aged Americans since 1999. In a development that “revers[ed] decades of progress,” the “mortality rate for white men and women between the ages of 45 and 54 with less than a college education increased by half a percent per year between 1999 and 2013, most likely because of problems with legal and illegal drugs, alcohol and suicide.” Previously, death rates for the group were “dropping at an average of 2 percent a year.”

During the same period, the death rate for middle-aged blacks and Hispanics continued to decline…as did death rates for younger and older people of all races and ethnic groups.

While the reversal occurred primarily among men and women in that age group and education level, the rates of death from those causes also increased for wealthier middle-aged whites and white in other age groups.

Rising Suicide Rates

Middle-aged whites were committing suicide at an unprecedented rate and that the all-cause mortality in this group was rising. Suicides alone, however, was not enough to push up overall death rates. Deaths from drug and alcohol poisoning also increased in this group.

Deaths were largely confined to people with a high school education or less. In that group, death rates rose by 22 percent while they actually fell for those with a college education.

Middle-aged white men, unlike the young and unlike the elderly, were reporting more pain in recent years than in the past. A third in this group reported they had chronic joint pain over the years 2011 to 2013, and one in seven said they had sciatica. Those with the least education reported the most pain and the worst general health.

In contrast, the death rate for middle-aged blacks and Hispanics continued to decline during the same period, as did death rates for younger and older people of all races and ethnic groups.

Middle-aged blacks still have a higher mortality rate than whites — 581 per 100,000, compared with 415 for whites — but the gap is closing, and the rate for middle-aged Hispanics is far lower than for middle-aged whites at 262 per 100,000.

In middle age, they are dying at such a high rate that they are increasing the death rate for the entire group of middle-aged white Americans, Dr. Deaton and Dr. Case found.

The mortality rate for whites 45 to 54 years old with no more than a high school education increased by 134 deaths per 100,000 people from 1999 to 2014.

“It is difficult to find modern settings with survival losses of this magnitude,” wrote two Dartmouth economists, Ellen Meara and Jonathan S. Skinner, in a commentary to the Deaton-Case analysis to be published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


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