The death rates of middle-aged white Americans have been rising in contrast to all other racial and ethnic groups, according to a study released on Nov. 9.
Two Princeton economists, Angus Deaton and Anne Case (husband and wife), based their study on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other sources, The New York Times reports.
The economists concluded that the rise in deaths were from suicide, alcohol-related liver disease and overdoses on opioids such as heroin and prescription pain killers.
The mortality rate for American whites aged 45-54, with no more than a high school education, increased by 134 deaths for every 100,000 people between 1999 to 2014.
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However, death rates for middle-aged blacks and Hispanics have gone down.
Deaton and Case made their findings by accident. Deaton (2015 Nobel-prize winner) was studying suicide and happiness when he discovered that middle-aged whites were committing suicide at a high rate. Case was looking into poor health data and found that opiods and alcohol were taking down the same group.
Economist Paul Krugman noted the study in his Nov. 9 column in The New York Times, but also elaborated on the phenomenon.
"Life expectancy is high and rising in the Northeast and California, where social benefits are highest and traditional values weakest," Krugman wrote. "Meanwhile, low and stagnant or declining life expectancy is concentrated in the Bible Belt."
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Rev. Franklin Graham, however, wrote a response to Krugman's article on Facebook on Nov. 10, giving his take on why despair appears to be on the rise in America.
"It's a spiritual darkness caused by sin and the anti-God attitude that has permeated our society," Graham wrote. "This country is in deep moral and spiritual trouble."
However, that would not explain why only white, middle-aged, high school-educated Americans in the Bible belt are being affected.