Home > Uncategorized > Deaths of Despair. The Case/Deaton paper about mortality of White Americans. Some remarks.

Deaths of Despair. The Case/Deaton paper about mortality of White Americans. Some remarks.

Anne Case and her husband Angus Deaton have published a new paper about the deteriorating health of non-hispanic Whites in the USA. The use of more refined and more granular data as well as another year of data again shows a grim picture of ever rising ‘Deaths of Despair’. For those familiar with ‘Decline of the USA’, a book written by the editor of this blog Edward Fullbrook,  their findings won’t come as a total surprise. But the situation stays abhorrent.

Deaton graph

Death rates of those white people are going up. And they keep going up. Life expectancy is falling – especially life expectancy of the less educated. Which is totally anomalous in a historical sense as well as compared to other countries, according to the authors (I do not entirely agree, see below). And not because health care is imploding. But because people seem to give up. Some remarks:

  • It is not about health care perse. The table below shows that curable and preventable diseases are declining – even for non-hispanic whites – are declining
  • ‘Deaths of Despair’ are also increasing in other Anglo-Saxon countries. But not in non-Anglo Saxon countries (table). Even in Ireland.
  • While I was writing this Noah Smith linked, on Twitter, to this excellent 2014 new York Review of Books article by Masha Gessen about Russia and the incredible level of Deaths of Despair overthere. I do not entirely agree with the article (as pointed at on this blog, male life expectancy has recently reached a new record for the first time in about fifty years). But the ‘Death of Despair’ theme is as clear as in the USA.

Deaton tableWhat causes such historically unprecedented events (unprecedented in peacetime and after 1880, that is)? Two quotes which reinforce themselves, the first from Case and Deaton and the second from Gessen:

After having shown that there is quite some correlation between real wages and Deaths of Despair Case and Deaton tentatively state: “Better, we can see globalization and automation as the underlying deep causes. Ultimately, we see our story as about the collapse of the white, high school educated, working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline”. And Gessen states: “In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt argues that totalitarian rule is truly possible only in countries that are large enough to be able to afford depopulation. The Soviet Union proved itself to be just such a country on at least three occasions in the twentieth century—teaching its citizens in the process that their lives are worthless… .”. As we know, the USA is a large country, too (but Ireland isn’t – or should this country be considered to be a part of the Eurozone?).

  1. March 25, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    Wow. So there are two packs in the top set of graphs: “Under FDR” and “everybody else”.

  2. March 26, 2017 at 6:04 pm

    Did not read any of the books or papers on the topic, just the page 67 March 25 article in the “The Economist” . Below is the letter to the editor i just emailed and posted on Facebook, which is valid here to–

    A well presented one page case study summary of what has gone very wrong in the United States in the last 25 years, broader and deeper than any domestic yankee could ever assemble.Another great illustrating chart .

    Perhaps you missed the “balance of work/life” problem where workers have vacation ( “holidays”) that are half that of other first class countries leading to “burn out” and the knock on to “crushed aspirations”.

    Fortunately, at 75, I was blessed to have been born and educated In Brooklyn and lived in the
    golden age of America when most everything was going well and good education lead to good jobs, medical insurance, pensions and a retirement with lots of time to read the Economist , watch BBC News and Masterpiece programs with solid affordable Medicare coverage coverage.
    Having worked on international assignments half of my career,
    I am knowledge about other countries heathcare, and will say that US Medicare is as good as all other US healthcare is bad.
    Unfortunately, my children are not “living the dream” with sky high medical insurance premiums and limited upward mobility but still have hope for more.
    Walter Leen, retired global accountant
    Atlanta, Georgia

  3. fonscx
    March 28, 2017 at 6:44 pm

    The Death of the White Working Class Has Been Greatly Exaggerated
    Why does the Brookings Institution want us to think white people are in more trouble than they are?


    • merijntknibbe
      March 28, 2017 at 7:11 pm

      Dear fonscx,

      The point: this is a reversal of a (peacetime) trend of continously improving health and decreasing mortality and morbidity which is visible since about 1880. That’s a big thing. And, taking developments in non Anglo-Saxon countries into account, a very big thing.

      Merijn Knibbe

      • fonscx
        March 28, 2017 at 7:52 pm

        Agreed. I just thought that Harris made some good points about the sample and the emphasis.

        “Despite the headlines, when you compare apples to apples, white Americans remain better off on average than black Americans across the board. For example, to fit black and white rates of heart disease mortality on the same graphs, Case and Deaton had to use different scales (see above). Comparing a range of eight deaths per 100,000 in white women to a range of 40 deaths per 100,000 in black women is to pay closer attention to the former. In these graphs, white lives literally count more, and black lives less. But whether in health, income, wealth, or educational attainment, American white privilege is still very much in effect, and no statistical tomfoolery can change that.”

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