SIGNS OF THE TIMES — PART 2: DECLINING LIFE EXPECTANCY

Vincent van Gogh, 1890. Kröller-Müller Museum. Sorrowing old man (“At Eternity’s Gate”) (from here).

Here we have Part 2 in a series of posts. For an explanation of the reason for this series and links to the other posts, please see SIGNS OF THE TIMES — PART 1: AN APPROACHING CRISIS?

What is this post about? Does the declining life expectancy of the American people indicate mounting frustration and brewing anger?

Consider how this report from NPR begins.

One of the fundamental ways scientists measure the well-being of a nation is tracking the rate at which its citizens die and how long they can be expected to live.

So the news out of the federal government Thursday is disturbing: The overall U.S. death rate has increased for the first time in a decade, according to an analysis of the latest data. And that led to a drop in overall life expectancy for the first time since 1993, particularly among people younger than 65.

“This is a big deal,” says Philip Morgan, a demographer at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill who was not involved in the new analysis.

“There’s not a better indicator of well-being than life expectancy,” he says. “The fact that it’s leveling off in the U.S. is a striking finding.” (continued here)

Here are a couple of other reports which examine the causes of America’s declining life expectancy (H/T to marmoewp). It seems the decline in life expectancy is due to increasing despair.

  • The Forces Driving Middle-Aged White People’s ‘Deaths Of Despair’

    In 2015, when researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton discovered that death rates had been rising dramatically since 1999 among middle-aged white Americans, they weren’t sure why people were dying younger, reversing decades of longer life expectancy.

    Now the husband-and-wife economists say they have a better understanding of what’s causing these “deaths of despair” by suicide, drugs and alcohol. (continued here)

  • Mortality and morbidity in the 21st century: What is interesting about this report is that a particular group seems to be dying from despair.

    In “Mortality and morbidity in the 21st century,” Princeton Professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton follow up on their groundbreaking 2015 paper that revealed a shocking increase in midlife mortality among white non-Hispanic Americans, exploring patterns and contributing factors to the troubling trend.

    Case and Deaton find that while midlife mortality rates continue to fall among all education classes in most of the rich world, middle-aged non-Hispanic whites in the U.S. with a high school diploma or less have experienced increasing midlife mortality since the late 1990s. This is due to both rises in the number of “deaths of despair”—death by drugs, alcohol and suicide—and to a slowdown in progress against mortality from heart disease and cancer, the two largest killers in middle age.

    The combined effect means that mortality rates of whites with no more than a high school degree, which were around 30 percent lower than mortality rates of blacks in 1999, grew to be 30 percent higher than blacks by 2015. (continued here)

The second of these two articles contains this video clip. It is worth taking the time to listen.

Effectively, when people die from despair, they commit suicide.  So here are some articles on why people commit suicide.

There are various theories as to why people kill themselves.  The way researchers Case and Deaton tell it white blue-collar workers are killing themselves because their job prospects are bleak. Then they go on to tell us how important healthcare reform is to blue-collar, middle-aged white people.

But what is the problem? Is it just the smaller size of a paycheck? Is it an economic problem or a spiritual problem?

What do people need? What is our materialistic ideal? It is a respectable job; a substantial home; an attractive spouse; a few healthy, well-behaved children; a couple of new cars in the garage; and so forth.  That’s the so-called American dream for which so many have sacrificed so much.

Were we right to chase the materialistic ideal? What people need most are other people they can love, people who love them. Yet we live in a society where we are increasingly becoming isolated from each other. Whereas Americans once lived in small communities among people they had known all their lives, many of us now have to go to work for social contact. So if blue-collar, middle-age white people are suffering despair, my guess is that they are dying from social isolation and loneliness. We usually don’t form the same kind of relationships with the people at work that we form with family and neighbors, but all our families are scattered across the country, and our neighbors work at different places. On most days, we cannot even find them at home.

So what about that question? Does the declining life expectancy of the American people indicate mounting frustration and brewing anger? There is no easy answer. When people start experiencing enough despair to harm themselves, we can rightly say they are getting desperate. That certainly indicates frustration.

How do people react to unrelenting frustration, to extreme stress? Well, we don’t all react the same way. Some people despair and turn their violence inward. Others get angry. Instead of blaming and destroying themselves, they blame others. Is that happening? All we can say for certain about America’s declining life expectancy is that something is not right.

14 thoughts on “SIGNS OF THE TIMES — PART 2: DECLINING LIFE EXPECTANCY

  1. Beautiful Tom! It’s oddly encouraging and comforting to see people finally speaking of these things openly. I know it’s a grim subject, but many of us have been on the front lines here for years, going half mad because, well, people are dying and nobody seems to see a problem. So quite true, middle aged despair and suicide has shot through the roof. As to younger people, it’s meth and heroin over doses.

    A few decades ago we used to die of heart disease…..the end result of being fat and happy.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. @insanitybytes22

      Thank you.

      The drug problem is a subset of the despair problem, but it seems to be an important subset.

      I worked at a government job inside a vault, government secrets. Nobody touched drugs except for alcohol. Lose your job that way. So I don’t claim to know much about it. Not too many narcotics in a vault.
      😀

      Because I was a military brat, I grew up seeing what alcohol does to some people. Fascinated by science, I quickly figured out alcohol was just another drug to be dreaded and avoided.

      Years ago I heard about Rush Limbaugh’s addiction to a painkiller. Kind of like getting addicted to morphine. Latter, when she was dying from cancer, I discovered my mother was taking the same drug. It was a funny feeling. Since this new drug was more addictive, it was also something out of science fiction. Whatever can be very good can also be very bad.

      Now there is what they call an opioid epidemic. Is the problem the new drugs, or is it spiritual? It seems that study suggests some people are more vulnerable to addiction because they have already given up.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Tom

    I find this fascinating. I am probably going to sound harsh here, and I don’t mean to, I only tell my personal reality as I live it. To illustrate that despair is not necessarily the only way to react to the things around us. 10 years ago I was a white collar guy in working in the finance and housing industry, specifically Real Estate and home mortgages. Well, one day I had nothing. I waited tables for a living at the age of 45.

    Now…I am the bluest of the blue collar guys, with a career doing things I never would have dreamed of in my suit and tie days. Rather than succumbing to the economic despair, I did what I do…and that meant clawing and wrestling my way back to the top of the heap..

    I understand the despair, I really do; but I would just toss in this mix that for some, giving into it might involve choices.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. @Wally Fry

      Doesn’t sound harsh to me. When I “retired” from the Air Force, I was out of work for awhile. I had some adjustments to make. I struggled. It hurt to watch my family’s savings disappear, but I eventually figured out what I needed to do, and I did it.

      I think the problem lots of people have these days is they never learn to accept the fact that nobody owes us anything. To get what we need (not just want) requires a struggle. We measure success by getting what we need and forming good relationships, not by piling up stuff.

      Sure, when we have a child, we are responsible for that kid, but that kid grows up. Then the kid, to become an adult, must assume responsibility for his or her successes and failures.

      In simpler times, most peoples had a rite of passage, a time when a boy became a man or a girl became a woman. I don’t believe we have such rites anymore. The closest things to it are a high school graduation and one’s 18th birthday. Not the same thing.

      How many parents kick a kid out of the house? How many say to their child: “you are on your own.” How many demand rent payments? Yet this is the time we let those young people vote. Have we prepared them for such adult responsibilities? Have we prepared them to raise their own children? By what criteria?

      Too many Americans think growing up and becoming a mature adult just happens. They may understand the problem intellectually, but few do anything except copy what they see their neighbors doing and cross their fingers. Is keeping up with the Jone’s the right answer? Why? How many even ask that question?

      In those simpler times, when survival depended upon a community effort and rigorous self-discipline, people knew better. They prayed to their gods, and they made all the “proper sacrifices’, but they also planted seed, set traps, and prepared clothing for winter. They had responsibilities. With people they loved depending upon them, they had no time for the luxury of despair.

      Like

  3. I think the isolation component is huge Tom–the alienation of human beings, one from another….coupled with the living in a virtual time of life…
    it’s sitting in a room with younger folks—teen to late 20’s—all on their phones…even texting one another as they sit across from one another as the gap grows wider between face to face interactions…real conversations, reading human reactions, grasping social skills that were once mere assumptions yet are now precariously and awkwardly fumbled.
    We’ve allowed a false sense of well being by the number of likes one receives while on-line bullying sky rockets as our youth have no idea as how to handle or deal with the repercussions….
    You answer this conundrum Tom…
    “What people need most are other people they can love, people who love them”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Excellent post Tom on a very timely subject. Rising mortality rates among white men has been a slow motion train wreck for years. Add in the related issues of the opioid crisis, massive shifts in the economy resulting in job loss and the overall trend of male demonization and indeed a crisis in the making becomes apparent. It’s a spiritual issue for sure with lots of interdependent factors at play.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are right about the white male problem, but this affects women too.

      Case: The rates of suicide are much higher among men [than women]. And drug overdoses and alcohol-related liver death are higher among men, too. But the [mortality] trends are identical for men and women with a high school degree or less. So we think of this as people, either quickly with a gun or slowly with drugs and alcohol, are killing themselves. Under that body count there’s a lot of social dysfunction that we think ultimately we may be able to pin to poor job prospects over the life course. (from => http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/03/23/521083335/the-forces-driving-middle-aged-white-peoples-deaths-of-despair)

      Of course, the researchers blame economic problems. NPR? Brookings? What passes for American academia these days? I suppose that is to be expected.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Well that’s a good point Tom about the women. I guess I missed that because I keep hearing so much about the crisis men are experiencing. Of course too when men allow themselves (choose to?) fade away like that it very much affects women, children and society as a whole. Not good.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Citizen Tom, wonderful post. I really enjoy your blogs, just found it a few days ago. I especially enjoy your comment section and some of the debates. I find everyone on here far, far, better read than me, so I do not comment thinking debate. I do not know what our problem is today but I do believe you and others touched on it in your comments. Education! In my day no one would have thought of disobeying a teacher much less shoving or threatening one. Had it happened I think it would have been instant and permanent expulsion. But it didn’t, not b/c of fear but b/c it wasn’t the culture. A different time, a different culture. I didn’t go to college and didn’t want to. I just wanted to get out of high school with a diploma, the reason is obvious. Today everyone is urged to go to college. And so we have the dim and unready pushed onto campuses. It has resulted in admission standards being lowered to keep them in academic standing. Why b/c there is money in these unstudents. These unstudents call themselves men and women, without behaving as such. But they are attending a College-looking place, so they figured they must be going to college, and they getting great grades, so they must be learning something. My high school teachers weren’t brilliant nor did they need to be since it was then thought that schools existed to impart knowledge. And it worked to no one’s surprise since it had always worked. Today we expect value for our money, that means grades. So everyone is getting A’s and B’s what they are not getting is an education.

    Like

    1. @Kenneth L Solomon

      Thanks for the compliment and the thoughtful comment.

      I agree that education is at the core of our nation’s problems. I think getting government out of the education business is critical to restoring our republic.

      When people enlist government to fix a problem, they naively assume that politicians will keep their promises and spend our money wisely. Given that almost never happens, I wonder why people still think that, but we keep sending the same people back to Congress.

      What does happen when government spends our money for us. Quality suffers for two reasons:
      1. Politicians spend other people’s money for other people. So political donors may get what they want, but those seeking an education (the issue here) have much less influence than they would if they were paying customers.
      2. People enter the education field just because that’s where the money is. When the government pumps money into an area, people enter the field just because that is where the jobs are. Moreover, students get themselves “educated” just because someone else is paying the bill. Thus, we turn what would otherwise be a much more serious activity into going through the motions.

      It is a shame, really. If the government would just restrain itself, we would have great schools. Instead of educating soft-headed Social Justice Warriors, we would be producing many more serious people who love learning and our Lord Jesus Christ. Moreover, our colleges would still have little trouble attracting business from out of the country, and they could do the world much more good.

      Like

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