To be more exact, Case and Deaton found that middle-aged, non-Hispanic Americans without a college degree experience a significantly higher mortality rate than those in advanced countries like the United Kingdom or Germany. While everyone else in the United States is getting healthier and living longer, it’s that segment of whites who accounted for “half a million deaths” between 1999 and 2013. To scientists, the sudden die-off in middle-of-the-road white Americans constitutes a phenomenon “unprecedented in the annals of public health among developed nations” with the exception of the post-U.S.S.R. deaths of Russian males and, in some ways, the first shock waves of the AIDs crisis in the early 1980s.
Joseph Stiglitz lays much of the blame for the increase in deaths from suicide, drugs, and alcoholism on our growing economic inequality, and on the high price we, as a nation, pay for medical care which, for too long, has put it out of the reach of those who need it most. Stiglitz also mentions the increase in mortality that occurred in Russia after the dissolution of the USSR.
During the early 1990s, Russia saw an alarming increase in the mortality of its men as their life expectancy fell by six years, while that of women fell by three. By 2006, Russia’s mortality rate, which had been 38 percent higher than that of Western Europe in 1980, increased to a level of 135 percent.
Granted, they have been dealing with their own AIDS epidemic as well as a large jump in tuberculosis infections, many of which appear to be antibiotic resistant. But most of the increase comes from mortalities due to cardiovascular diseases (CVD) which are currently 3.8 times greater than the rate of CVD mortality in Western Europe. Deaths from external events (injuries, accidents, poisonings) increased from 2.5 times more than Western Europe in 1980 to 5.3 times greater in 2006. From a spring 2009, World Affairs Journal article by Nicholas Eberstadt:
Taken together, then, deaths from cardiovascular disease and from injuries and poisoning have evidently been the main drivers of modern Russia’s strange upsurge in premature mortality and its broad, prolonged retrogression in public health conditions. One final factor that is intimately associated with both of these causes of mortality is alcohol abuse.The damage done by alcohol in Russia is much worse than here in the U.S. due to the popularity of home brews known as samogon. Often filled with impurities, these home brews have contributed to the death rate due to alcohol poisoning. Local studies have shown that alcohol is “a direct factor in premature death,” including one in a city in the Urals that ...
indicated that over 40 percent of the younger male decedents evaluated had probably been alcohol-impaired or severely intoxicated at the time of death - including one quarter of the deaths from heart disease and over half of those from accidents or injuries.So, when looking at a chart like the one below that was part of the original study done by Case and Denton, notice that the other nations all have decent health care available to all citizens. The Russian health care safety net is not unlike the one that exists in too many parts of the United States today - somewhere between very weak and nonexistent. It would be interesting to see how a chart that included Russia would look.
She found that after the collapse of the USSR, middle-aged Russians were faced with an economy that no longer provided stable, secure employment, and that the retirement system had collapsed, leaving the future uncertain with few prospects for improvement. They no longer felt needed, by their society or by their families. Parsons looks at the involvement of alcohol in the increased mortality rate and:
theorizes that drinking is, for what its worth, an instrument of adapting to the harsh reality and sense of worthlessness that would otherwise make one want to curl up and die.One wonders how much of that attitude is shared by the middle-aged Americans that Case and Deaton have examined. In discussing their original paper, Paul Starr of the American Prospect wrote:
The declining health of middle-aged white Americans may also shed light on the intensity of the political reaction taking place on the right today. The role of suicide, drugs, and alcohol in the white midlife mortality reversal is a signal of heightened desperation among a population in measurable decline. We are not talking merely about “status anxiety” due to rising immigrant populations and changing racial and gender relations. Nor are we talking only about stagnation in wages as if the problem were merely one of take-home pay. The phenomenon Case and Deaton have identified suggests a dire collapse of hope, and that same collapse may be propelling support for more radical political change. Much of that support is now going to Republican candidates, notably Donald Trump. Whether Democrats can compete effectively for that support on the basis of substantive economic and social policies will crucially affect the country’s political future.