The recent finding that middle-aged mortality for white non-Hispanic Americans is on the rise caused widespread intrigue and debate. The underlying research, which was published in a series of papers by Professors Case and Deaton in 2015 and 2017, has demanded serious contemplation from policymakers and researchers. For the 24th OHE Annual Lecture, Case and Deaton turned their analytical gaze to Europe and asked: “could it happen here?”
In our publication of the Annual Lecture, the speakers compare US mortality trends with those observed in European countries, including the UK. Mortality rates in the US demonstrate clearly divergent trends according to race or ethnicity. From the late 1990s, mortality rates for white non-Hispanic Americans reverse their downward trend and start to increase.
What is driving this mortality trend? Case and Deaton point the finger at ‘deaths of despair’: suicide, alcohol-related diseases, and drug overdose. States in the US have experienced growing rates of mortality from all of these causes, almost without exception. Deaths from these causes have been rising since the late 1990s for all age groups between 30 and 64. Digging deeper, we see that these increases in mortality rates are only observed for people with education less than a bachelor’s degree (four years of college in the US).
And what of Europe? Well, the good news (for Europeans) is that we don’t see an overall upturn in all-cause mortality rates nor, with few exceptions, in deaths of despair. However, one of the interesting features of the observation in the US data is that the upturn only became apparent because mortality from heart disease stopped falling. While mortality from heart disease was falling, the effect of increasing deaths of despair was being offset. While mortality from heart disease in the US began to plateau from the mid-2000s, rates in the UK and continental Europe continued to decline. But could a similar situation be brewing in Europe, with a lag?
to download the full publication.