An investigation of 60 million death certificates has uncovered a sharp rise in the mortality rate for white adults aged between 25 and 34.
The study revealed that between 1999 and 2014, adults in this age group experienced a higher mortality rate even though treatments for commonly fatal diseases such as cancer and heart disease improved, the New York Times reported.
Drug overdoses as the cause of death among white, non-Hispanic adults aged 25 to 34 rose five-fold from six in every 1,000 deaths in 1999 to 30 in every 1,000 deaths in 2014. The rate also tripled in the 35 to 44 age bracket. The figures include deaths resulting from illegal and legal drugs.
Death rates have not been so high among young adults since the end of the AIDS crisis. The Times reported that today’s generation of young adults will be the first to experience a higher death rate than their parents’ generation since the 1960s.
The increase in mortality was so sharp that graphs showing the results were compared to charts detailing the impact of a new infectious disease.
“It is like an infection model diffusing out and catching more and more people,” Dartmouth economist Jonathan Skinner told the Times.
The increase in death rates disproportionately affected those with lower levels of education. Mortality rates in the 25 to 34 age group were up 23 percent among those without a high school qualification, but the rates rose by only 4 percent among college graduates.
Mark Hayward, a sociology professor at the University of Texas, explained that mortality rates are a sensitive measure of quality of life.
“There are large numbers of people who never get established in the economy, who live outside family relationships and are on the edge of poverty,” he said.
The difference in the death rate between blacks and whites is at its lowest for over a century, and Skinner said that if trends continue, it would be equal within nine years.
The figures uncovered by the Times investigation are similar to those revealed by a study into middle-aged Americans published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in November 2015, the Atlantic noted.
The paper noted that from 1978 to 1998, death rates among middle-aged, white Americans dropped by 2 percent annually, in line with other developed countries.
But from 1998 and on, deaths among white, non-Hispanic Americans aged 45 to 54 increased by 0.5 percent per year.
“No other rich country saw a similar turnaround,” the study’s authors wrote, according to the Atlantic.