Why a lack of education raises death risk for some Americans

Middle-age white Americans with limited education are increasingly dying younger, on average, than other middle-age U.S. adults, a trend driven by their dwindling economic opportunities, research by two Princeton University economists has found. The economists, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, argue in a paper released Thursday that the loss of steady middle-income jobs for those with only high school diplomas or less has triggered broad problems for this group. They are more likely than their college-educated counterparts, for example, to be unemployed, unmarried or afflicted with poor health. “This is a story of the collapse of the white working class,” Deaton said in an interview. “The labor market has very much turned against them.” Those dynamics helped fuel the rise of President Donald Trump, who won widespread support among whites with only a high school diploma. Yet Deaton said his policies are unlikely to reverse these trends, particularly the health care legislation now before the House that Trump is championing. That bill would lead to higher premiums for older Americans, the Congressional Budget Office has found. “The policies that you see, seem almost perfectly designed to hurt the very people who voted for him,” Deaton said. Case and Deaton’s paper, issued by the Brookings Institution, follows up on research they released in 2015 that first documented a sharp increase in mortality among middle-aged whites. Since 1999, white men and women ages 45 through 54 have endured a sharp increase in “deaths of despair,” Case and Deaton found in their earlier work. These include suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol-related deaths such as liver failure. Other research has found that Americans with only high school diplomas are less likely to get married or purchase a home and more likely to get divorced if they do marry.