Hit & Run

Good News! Death Rate Increase for Middle-Aged White Americans Is Lower Than First Thought

But even after adjustment, the death rate trend for white middle-aged American women is still rising



Princeton researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton reported that the mortality rate for midlife white non-Hispanic whites is rising. They found that the death rates for middle-aged white Americans, ages 45 to 54, has been rising since 1999. The rise in white midlife death rates is found entirely among those Americans with a high school degree or less. They attributed most of the increased mortality to drug overdoses, chronic liver disease, and suicides.

In column a few weeks back, I reported additional data that showed that the mortallity rates for whites ages 25 to 34 are also increasing.

Now two Columbia University researchers, Andrew Gelman and Jonathan Auerbach have published a re-analysis that suggests that the death rate trend identified by Case and Deaton may not be quite as bad as originally reported. They argue that the data need to be age-adjusted to account for the fact that the average age in each cohort is actually rising. This is important to take into account because your probability of dying in a given year doubles every 8 years.

So when Gelman and Auerbach make their age-adjustments to the 45 to 54 year-old cohort they find: 


Calculating the age-adjusted rates separately for each sex reveals a crucial result … The mortality rate among white non-Hispanic American women increased from 1999–2013. Among the corresponding group of men, however, the mortality rate increase from 1999–2005 is nearly reversed during 2005–2013.

In other words, the death rate for mid-life white women does indeed continue to rise, but it falls for mid-life men after 2005. So the news remains bad with regard to the death rates for mid-life white women. Although the death rate for mid-life white men is almost back to where it was in 1999, the overall trend is still not good because it is a reversal of the decades-long trend of falling death rates for the cohort of mid-life white American males.