Rising Death Toll Among Middle-Aged White Women

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Nobel Prize-winning economist Angus Deaton and his wife, Anne Case, reported a shocking trend last year: the marked rise in deaths of middle aged white men and women since 1999.

“Half a million people are dead who should not be dead,” Deaton told the Washington Post. “About 40 times the Ebola stats. You’re getting up there with HIV-AIDS.”

Earlier this year, reporter Eli Saslow and photographer Bonnie Jo Mount of the Washington Post produced a heartbreaking story emblematic of these mostly poor, rural Americans in their 40s and 50s who die from suicide, poisonings and chronic liver disease often related to drug and alcohol abuse.

We Don’t Know Why It Came To This chronicled the life and death of Anna Marrie Jones, a 54-year-old woman from Tecumseh, Oklahoma who died this year. Saslow wrote:

“What killed Jones was cirrhosis of the liver brought on by heavy drinking. The exact culprit was vodka, whatever brand was on sale, poured into a pint glass eight ounces at a time. But, as Anna’s family gathered at the gravesite for a final memorial, they wondered instead about the root causes, which were harder to diagnose and more difficult to solve.”

At the cemetery, Saslow noted that she would be surrounded by others:

“There were plots nearby marked for Jones’s friends and relatives who had died in the past decade at ages 46, 52 and 37. Jones had buried her fiancé at 55. She had eulogized her best friend, dead at 50 from alcohol-induced cirrhosis.”

And they were part of an even larger phenomenon:

“White women between 25 and 55 have been dying at accelerating rates over the past decade, a spike in mortality not seen since the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s,” Saslow wrote. “According to recent studies of death certificates, the trend is worse for women in the center of the United States, worse still in rural areas, and worst of all for those in the lower middle class. Drug and alcohol overdose rates for working-age white women have quadrupled. Suicides are up by as much as 50 percent.”

The Atlantic published a chart that illustrated how these Americans are dying. The Wall Street Journal examined how a slowing economy has contributed to the trend.

Links to articles above

Rising Morbidity and Mortality, Deaton & Case, PNAS

Group of Middle-Aged American Whites Dying At Startling Rate, Bernstein & Achenbach, Washington Post

Middle-Aged Americans Are Dying of Despair, Olga Khazan, Atlantic

Economic Roots of Climbing Death Rate, Josh Zumbrun, Wall Street Journal

We Don’t Know Why It Came To This, Eli Saslow, Washington Post

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