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Dying From Despair

The last article of the semester, Middle Aged White Americans Dying from Despair, was on a depressing topic, but I found the data to be so shocking that it was important to share with my class.  It also provides a possible explanation for Donald Trump’s continued popularity.  The following graphic shows US White non-Hispanic middle-aged mortality mysteriously starting to climb after 1998, while the rest of the comparison group mortality rates continue to trend downward, decreasing by 2% per year.

USW Mort

Note the US Hispanic mortality declines with the other countries, so this is not just a US phenomenon.  It is a middle aged white phenomenon; due in large part to a rise in “deaths from despair”: suicide along with alcohol and drug abuse.

USW Cause Mort

And to be more precise, it is a middle-aged White least educated phenomenon; impacting those with a high-school degree or less.  White, female high school dropouts now have a life expectancy 5 years LESS than their mothers!  The authors put forth the argument that financial strain is the culprit, with the great recession affecting this group the most.  The American Dream has evaporated for millions along with well paying manufacturing jobs, and the grim reality of retirement without any savings is now crashing down on this demographic group.

Donald Trump’s hate speech and finger pointing resonates well with those left behind by the new economy’s growth.  Economic disenfranchisement provides fertile soil for fascist ideas as well as addiction and depression.

My quiz contains some challenging questions from Damned Lies and Statistics, so just True/False on the article:

Q10 Despair

  1. In DLS Best recounts the controversy surrounding the crowd count for the Million Man March:
    1. BU estimated the crowd to be 870,000 with a margin of error of 25%. What was the range (highest possible value and lowest possible) for their estimate?
    2. BU used the density of 1.8 square feet per person while the Park Police used 3.6, which Best says is “half” the BU density. How is this “half”?
    3. If most crowds average 8 square feet per person what would this density give for an estimate of the crowd size for the Million Man march?
  1. In Table 6 DLS the first column uses 1996 dollars and the next uses 1982 dollars. Your friend says this indicates we cannot compare the rise in the first column’s Per Capita Income and the decline in the 2nd column’s Hourly Earnings.  How should you intelligently respond?
  1. Referring to the same table provide one explanation for how the average income per person could rise while at the same time the average hourly earnings could fall.
  1. In DLS Best discusses 4 different mind-sets for approaching statistics. Which of these describes your approach to statistics at the beginning of this course?  How has this changed over the semester if at all?
  1. Use the Middle Aged White Americans are Dying of Despair article to answer the following True/False questions:
    • The first Figure, Mortality Rate for 45 – 54 Year Olds, By Country, shows that all Americans aged 45-54 experienced a rise in mortality after 1998.
    • USW mortality rates aged 45-54, between 1978 to 1998, declined by 2% a year; meaning they experienced at total decline of 33.2%.
    • Nearly 90% of heroin users are white.
    • White female high school dropouts are now expected to die 5 years younger than their mothers.
    • They tell us that USW non-Hispanic aged 45-54 mortality “rose by half a percent per year” from 1998 to 2015 and “that means half a million people should not be dead.”  From this information we can compute the numbers of deaths for this group in 1998.




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