With an epidemic of opioid abuse, the generation that never wanted to grow old is dying ahead of its time.
Middle-aged white people are not usually anyone's idea of a vulnerable population, even in an era that aims for diversity. Having been history's conquerors and kings, they remain symbols of the establishment, its presidents and chief executives, comfortable, and still powerful.
But in the fall of 2015, two Princeton University economists dropped a bombshell on that assumption. Angus Deaton, who had just won a Nobel Prize in economics, and Anne Case reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the death rates of middle-aged whites in the U.S. had jumped sharply. For the first time in decades, the life expectancy of white men and women between the ages of 45 and 54 had plummeted—a trend not seen in any other rich country.
Between 1999 and 2013, the study found mortality rates of every other age and ethnic group in the U.S. fell by a steady clip of about two per cent per year. But among middle-aged whites, the mortality rate had risen by half a per cent per year. If it had continued to decline at the same rate as it had before 1998, an estimated 488,500 lives would have been saved. Or, as Deaton told the Washington Post, "Half a million people are dead who should not be dead."
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