Life Expectancy Dips Among Less Educated White People. Insert Hillbilly Joke Here.


So why are less educated white people dying earlier than in the past? It's a mystery. Is it oxycontin and Mountain Dew? And why are Hispanics so healthy? 


25 thoughts on “Life Expectancy Dips Among Less Educated White People. Insert Hillbilly Joke Here.

  1. That is a huge dip for women. A crisis, really, if it’s a robust effect. These life expectancy calculations are always really complicated, though. I hope people are digging to see if statistical evidence on causes of death are showing anything interesting. The result must mean that these women are more likely to die of something now than they were.

  2. Has the proportion of the white female population accounted for under “without degree” changed over that time? If a smaller number than ever are emerging without a degree, couldn’t that alone account for it? To me this seems like a straight poverty thing; that you used to be able to achieve middle-class-dom without a degree and now you can’t.

  3. I thought of Jen’s hypothesis, too, that the population of women is changing (rather than something about the population is changing). With more opportunity, more women could be earning college degrees, leaving a a smaller less-healthy subset of women behind (poverty, drug use, smoking, . . . .).
    Then, the lack of decline for black women, for example, would be explained by fewer black women earning college degrees, and staying in the pool of less educated women.
    Presumably the research paper would address changes int he proportion of women in the different groups (even if the news article didn’t), but without reading it, you can’t tell.

  4. I think if Jen’s link to poverty was the explanation one should expect see a decrease in median income or increase of proportion of women in poverty over the same time period (using, potentially, household incomes).
    And isn’t there a statistic out there that shows that real income has been decreasing for the same demographic?
    (Again, the trend wouldn’t necessarily mean that a particular individual was getting poorer, only that the group is relatively poorer).

  5. Steve Sailer (he-who-must-not-be-named) concurs:
    “Obviously, part of the explanation for the drop is that between 1990 and 2008, whites without high school degrees became a more self-selected class of people with problems. In 1990, an older white person who had dropped out of high school to, say, help with farm chores or get a job in an airplane factory during WWII was a pretty average person. By 2008, white high school dropouts were more likely to be notably deficient in some regard.”
    I wonder if the no-diploma group includes no-GED? It generally does. A no-diploma, no-GED white woman in 2012 is probably kind of a mess or disabled in some way, which would not be the case with, say, a 65-year-old Guatemalan or Nigerian immigrant woman with no diploma.
    Likewise, the US dropout rate differs by sex, with girls traditionally having a lower dropout rate than boys.
    Part of that difference would probably be due to the fact that in the past, there were a lot of relatively lucrative job opportunities for male high school dropouts. I suspect that the reason that the white female dropouts are having so much trouble with life-expectancy is that at this point, being a white female dropout is a sign of major deviancy.
    I think that immigration would also have a very different effect on the various categories. White immigrants to the US almost always have high school diplomas or better, while non-white immigrants often do not have high school diplomas. Hence, white immigrants would not improve the performance of the white female dropout category, while non-white immigrants without diplomas may be improving their respective categories.

  6. For comparison, consider the probable change in life expectancy for tattooed white women over the past 40 years. Presumably, as more and more non-dysfunctional white women have gotten tattoos, the life expectancy of tattooed white women has soared.

  7. I still remember when I was reading about the “Criminal Lifestyle Scale” (or something like that) and having two tattoos counted for as much as an arrest on the score.

  8. I’d like to see the ven diagram that compares the Urban Hipster Scale (where you gain points for neck tattoos, particularly if they’re ironical), the Criminal Lifestyle Scale, and the Served in the Navy scale.

  9. jen,
    I love this treatment of the subject, although it doesn’t match my observations:
    When I was in college in the first half of the 90s, it seemed like every girl was getting an ankle tattoo. Previously, I don’t think I’d ever seen a female person with a tattoo. 10 years later, the tramp stamp appeared, and I’ve lately seen a mom at our church with serious neck tattoos (NOT ironic, I think).

  10. It is my understanding that compared to other demographic groups that a very large percentage of White American women have four year college degrees. So the group left over is going to have a disproportionate number of people involved in things like drug use, street prostitution, and other risky behaviors from an early (high school) age. This is much less true of Latinos where a lot of them particularly recent immigrants will not have college degrees, but instead go directly into the work force. There is a big difference in health effects between not going to college because you are a crack whore and not going to college because you take a blue collar job.
    BTW: My sources in CA tell me that the term Hispanic is no longer acceptable. Latino is the preferred nomenclature now.

  11. “BTW: My sources in CA tell me that the term Hispanic is no longer acceptable. Latino is the preferred nomenclature now.”
    “Latino” is polite in California. (I went to college in LA.)
    I believe that “Hispanic” is polite in Texas, while “Mexican” is kind of rude, although I once heard somebody refer to herself jokingly as “Tex-Mex”. I haven’t heard anybody here in Texas say “Latino.” My local chum who is from a South American immigrant family and grew up in Florida calls herself “Hispanic.”
    I also believe that “Hispanic” is the official census term.

  12. Drugs, both prescription and illegal. Oxycontin, heroin, marijuana, etc. The increases in taxes on alcohol and tobacco may have made illegal, thus tax-free, substances more attractive and affordable. (I have no idea how the costs stack up.)
    Perhaps antidepressant medications? White people reportedly use SSRIs more than black or hispanic people: (Hispanics use the least.) The least educated whites would be much less likely to see a doctor regularly for accurate prescriptions. ” From 1988–1994 through 2005–2008, the rate of antidepressant use in the United States among all ages increased nearly 400% .”
    I think the growing estrangement between social classes which Charles Murray wrote about in _Coming Apart_ could play a role.

  13. I wonder how this tracks with access to healthcare and of what quality at the costs that less-educated people can likely afford. Not all people without degrees are poor: neither of my in-laws graduated from college or university and they’re the wealthiest relative that I have! Still, their situation seems to be anomalous.
    Let’s say you’re a worker with a high school degree and little else. You work minimum wage across town all day and you have to take a day without pay to see the doctor and cough up a co-pay: how likely are you to do this?
    Also, see how much more the drop has been for women without a degree. Are they sacrificing their own health and opportunities for children? Are we seeing an artifact of women without good earning potential, safety nets and support (divorced, widowed, never married)? I’d be interested to know if there’s some data that links this up with socioeconomic status.

  14. What I find the most troubling from a policy perspective is that the “white men without a degree” line seems to have dropped below the Social Security retirement age. Does this mean that the majority of uneducated white men are never actually getting Social Security?

  15. Well, black men without degrees are still lower. That’s not troubling?
    But, I doubt it means a majority don’t get SS, especially not a majority of those who paid in, First, age 66 is still the normal retirement age for those currently retiring. It only goes to 67 for those born after 1960. Second, you can still retire at 62 (at 75% of the full benefits) and those mostly likely to die younger probably have health problems that make that early option seem useful or necessary. Third, lots of people go out on SS disability and those are again people likely to die younger. Also, assuming they were married to someone that they didn’t actually want to suffer, the widow’s benefit is a consideration.

  16. Hmmm… very interesting, and according to the charts both Hispanic men and women have higher life expectancy. This may sound really “stupid,” but I thought I’d share anyway.
    When I think about this there is only one thing that comes to my mind as non Hispanic latina [Brazilian] (and for full disclosure, I’m a vegetarian & I believe that the food one eats makes a huge difference in health and longevity).
    Latinos generally cook most meals from scratch, using tons of rice and beans, vegetables and other complements (including meats) and eat home cooked meals much more often than they eat processed and “junk” food. I suppose that these habits may change as immigrant communities get more assimilated to American society.
    This is my completely anecdotal take on this.

  17. Immigrants are a self-selected group of mostly healthy people considering their socioeconomic status. That probably explains the Hispanic trend.

  18. I’ve seen studies that note that socially isolated people tend to get sicker and die earlier and that being part of a community is associated with a higher life expectancy. I was assuming that this was the reason why Hispanics might live longer — having more social connections. I’d be interested in the connections between life expectancy and communities. Also, the data kind of reminds me of the old datasets from the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. There I believe it was poor diet and alcoholism that was responsible for the short life expectancies.

  19. “Latinos generally cook most meals from scratch, using tons of rice and beans, vegetables and other complements (including meats) and eat home cooked meals much more often than they eat processed and “junk” food. I suppose that these habits may change as immigrant communities get more assimilated to American society.”
    While I think it is true that the immigrant Hispanic diet is pretty good, interestingly, 7 out of 10 people in Mexico are overweight, while 3 out of 10 are obese.
    “In 2000 some 20% of Mexican primary-school girls were overweight; by 2006 27% were. Diabetes is the top cause of hospital admission after childbirth [in Mexico], and the second-biggest cause of death.”
    I think it really does come down to the diploma-less white population becoming smaller and at the same time more dysfunctional.

  20. Well, black men without degrees are still lower. That’s not troubling?
    Well, Bush tried to make the argument when he was doing his post-re-election road show to privatize social security. He didn’t get a lot of converts.
    When I refered to policy, I meant that there are 6X as many white people as black people in America. It doesn’t make it more important to any individual uneducated person, but it is going to hit a lot more neighborhoods, where the well-off get to retire on Social Security, and the poor folks start to die just as the first check is coming.

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