Feature Stories

Politics & Polls #43: Why Are ‘Deaths of Despair’ Plaguing Middle-Aged White Americans?

May 11, 2017
By:
B. Rose Kelly
Source:
Woodrow Wilson School
Tags: 
Health

President Donald Trump pledged to bring jobs back to America during his campaign, appealing to a strong middle class base that’s been struggling with stagnant wages and few job opportunities.

Since the 1990s, death rates among this demographic — specifically middle-aged white Americans without college degrees — have been on the rise thanks to opioid addiction, alcohol abuse and suicide. This same pattern isn’t seen in other parts of the world, reversing decades of progress.

Economist Anne Case, whose landmark study with co-author Sir Angus Deaton first detected the rise in mortality rates, joins this episode to discuss why “deaths of despair” are plaguing middle-aged white Americans.

Case, who has written extensively on health over the life course, is the Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. She also serves as director of the Research Program in Development Studies.

Case and Deaton’s research on midlife mobility and mortality has been cited in hundreds of media outlets around the world. For this work, she received the Cozzarelli Prize from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Case also was awarded the Kenneth J. Arrow Prize in Health Economics from the International Health Economics Association for her work on the links between economic status and health status in childhood.

ABOUT THE HOSTS

Zelizer is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 
Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He has been one of the pioneers in the revival of American political history. He is the author of several books including, most recently, "The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society." Zelizer is a frequent commentator in the international and national media on political history and contemporary politics. He has published more than 600 hundred op-eds, including his weekly column on CNN.com.

Wang is professor of neuroscience and molecular biology at Princeton University. He is known for his books "Welcome to Your Brain" and "Welcome to Your Child's Brain" and for his founding role at the Princeton Election Consortium, a blog providing U.S. election analyses. In 2004, Wang was one of the first to aggregate U.S. presidential polls using probabilistic methods. He has also developed new statistical standards for partisan gerrymandering. A neuroscientist, Wang's academic research focuses on the neuroscience of learning, the cerebellum and autism.