A Scientific Study Shows that in U.S., Uneducated Whites Are Now Dying Younger

Eric Zuesse

An article published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), documents that, ever since 1998 in the U.S, Whites who are of non-Hispanic origin have been dying younger and younger, and that this is especially true for those Whites who are low-educated (non-BA’ed) and middle-aged (45- to 54-year-old). But it’s true also for the other age-categories of non-Hispanic Whites.

This study, by Anne Case and Angus Deaton, “Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century,” published now in PNAS, finds that, for the low-educated, group, “The change in all-cause mortality for white non-Hispanics 45–54 is largely accounted for by an increasing death rate from external causes, mostly increases in drug and alcohol poisonings and in suicide.” It “was driven primarily by increasing death rates for those with a high school degree or less. … Those with college education less than a BA saw little change in all-cause mortality over this period; those with a BA or more education saw death rates fall.”

Whereas in 1998, only 2 persons per 100,000 in the White non-BA’ed group died from poisonings, that figure has steadily soared since then and is now above 30, a 15-fold increase.

The suicide-rate rose from 16 to 25; and the rate from chronic liver disease rose from 16 to 21.

Poisonings are thus now the leading cause of deaths within the low-educated White middle-aged group; lung cancer is #2; suicide is #3; chronic liver disease is #4; and diabetes is #5. The only one among the five major causes that has gone down among Whites since 1998 is lung cancer (perhaps a result of reduced smoking). However, the increase from diabetes has been only very slight, from 11 to 12. 

Table 2 in the article shows that for all White non-Hispanics aged 45-54, there were enormous increases (doubling in some, going to tenfold in others) in such categories as “days physical health was not good”; “days mental health was not good”; and difficulty with or related to “walking,” climbing stairs,” “standing,” “sitting,” “activities limited by physical or mental health,” “unable to work,” and “heavy drinking.”

The article doesn’t speculate as to the causes of this mortality-rise among Whites.

The question here is: what was done in or around 1998 that might have, to a greater degree than with other groups, adversely affected Whites, and especially low-educated ones, so as to have markedly and very disproportionately increased the stresses that can lead to deaths from poisonings (especially “drug and alcohol poisonings”), and from suicides?

Blacks and Hispanics have always been highly stressed in the U.S.; so, their decline in death-rates was actually continuing during this time; we’re looking here only for a differential indicator, one which can explain the rapid plunge in the welfare of Whites, and especially of middle-aged ones, and especially of low-educated middle-aged ones — not of young or old ones. However, actually, the entire category of American (non-Hispanic) Whites has been dying younger than before, and this fact also needs to be part of the same explanation.

American Whites, in their middle years, used to expect to outperform their parents; they used to expect to become better-educated and higher-income than their parents. Perhaps they no longer do.

One cannot say that the white majority has suffered more than minorities have suffered during the economic stagnation that this nation has experienced since, actually, around 1980. For example, here, from the Economic Policy Institute, is a table showing America’s economic stagnation across groups:


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Furthermore, here is the Conclusion from the 2010 study, “Foreclosures by Race and Ethnicity,” that Responsible Lending did, of the extent to which the George W. Bush economic crash and home-foreclosures, affected Whites, Blacks, and Latinos:

“We have estimated that two million families have lost their primary homes and that AfricanAmerican and Latino borrowers have borne and will continue to disproportionately bear the burden of foreclosures.”

Blacks and Hispanics were hit harder by the 2005-2008 foreclosure-crisis than Whites were. And yet, ever since 1998, for some reason, Whites (especially low-educated ones) have lost hope at a far greater percentage than have Hispanics or Blacks.

Do Hispanics and Blacks have stronger psychological, and perhaps also physical, constitutions than Blacks and Hispanics do? They’ve always had lower suicide-rates than Whites. So: maybe they do.

At this stage, one can only speculate as to the reasons behind the Case-Deaton findings.


Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of  They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of  CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity.young ones, and not of old ones, and

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  • diogenes

    I challenge the accuracy and the honesty of the “Economic Policy Institute”‘s table of “real median weekly earnings” and of author Zuesse for citing them. In 1979 a spacious one bedroom apartment in my area rented for $230. Today it rents for over $2500. Median incomes in actual inflationary dollars since 1979 have not increased by a factor of 10, or anything close. It would be easy to multiply this example dozens of times. These numbers are bullshit and the author who cites them is either grossly gullible and incompetent, or a bullshiter too.

    • Army of Addicts

      Is that what keeps you coming back?

  • reaganreruns

    All foreclosures are not equal. There were boiler rooms minting mortgages to anyone with little or no money down–there were even banks specializing in lending not just to immigrants, but illegal immigrants in Chicago. Those loans probably went disproportionately to nonwhites. Getting a home that way was a bit like buying a car with no money down.

    The working poor in this country, many of them white, might have worked their whole lives to own a house and are being economically crushed, all to a background chorus of white privilege.

    And as far was the leading cause of death in that group being “poisoning,” essentially a group of greedy businessmen made a legalized drug model, made a ton of money, and then those newly minted addicts got dumped into the heroin market. If it wasn’t done on purpose, certainly nothing was done to stop it.

    If we had an even slightly functional government, Washington would be responding to the systematic annihilation of the predominantly white working class. The denial that these people have as much right as anyone else to live a decent life has got to end.

    • mulga mumblebrain

      The ‘morality’ of capitalism is clearly evidenced in the actions of the greatest mass murderers in history, the tobacco peddlers, over many decades. Their intense efforts to keep on making money out of knowingly killing tens of millions of people, still afflict the poor world today. If you needed any further evidence that capitalism selects for psychopaths in choosing its leading figures, perhaps the junk-food industry will suffice as another example.

      • Silverado

        I appreciate your point BUT I think the greatest mass murderers in history are govts. The Catholic church surely has a place in that line too as do the tobacco peddlers. I’m just thinking compared to the time span of hundreds of years the govts and church has been active in doing their combined sins, the tobacco peddlers are rather recent player to deadly scourges. Especially the one they created…

  • kimyo

    i wish it was possible to tell if the deaths by ‘poisoning’ include adverse reactions to prescription drugs. it’s possible that these deaths would be more apparent in the population studied.

    Prescription Drugs More Likely to Kill You than Recreational Drugs

    More than 700,000 people visit U.S. emergency rooms each year as a result of adverse drug reactions. And, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), adverse drug reactions from drugs that are properly prescribed and properly administered cause about 106,000 deaths per year, making prescription drugs the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S.

  • Army of Addicts

    Is it easier to isolate oneself during the process of self destruction as technology allows us more and more independence from human interaction? Is is easier more now than before to hide psychological ailments? Does culture give support to middle class problems more than lower class?

    Minorities and city dwellers have much thicker skins that rural Americans.

    College grades have more coherence among themselves than do lower income, skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled laborers do. It’s like a safety net where they help eachother along.

    Or cant we just blame McDonald’s?

  • Sendil

    The thing is, Deaton and Case are incorrect; younger age groups have also seen their mortality rates increase (non-Hispanic whites).