The White Man’s Burden: More Drinking, Drugs, and Suicides Since 2000

Senior Man ThinkingMore nonsense has been written about white nationalism/supremacy in the wake of Donald Trump’s election than anyone should have to read. So, it is a pleasure to find some actual data analysis on the role of non-college educated white citizens in the success of the Trump candidacy, especially versus Mitt Romney’s failed 2012 campaign.

The Economist has estimated health status explains the Trump vote better than being a non-college educated white citizen does. The sicker you are, the more likely you are to have voted for Mr. Trump. Non-college educated whites are also likely to be sicker, so the two variables are not independent. Nevertheless:

Although we could not find a single factor whose explanatory power was greater than that of non-college whites, we did identify a group of them that did so collectively: an index of public-health statistics. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington has compiled county-level data on life expectancy and the prevalence of obesity, diabetes, heavy drinking and regular physical activity (or lack thereof). Together, these variables explain 43% of Mr. Trump’s gains over Mr. Romney, just edging out the 41% accounted for by the share of non-college whites.

(“Illness as an Indicator,” The Economist, November 19, 2016, available at

Okay, so let’s get this straight: Obamacare had been signed in 2010, but did not provide subsidized benefits until 2014. The people who should have been most grateful for Obamacare rejected it in the 2016 election, more than they had in 2012. (Mr. Romney also ran against Obamacare.)

The Economist column also cited a 2015 paper by Nobel-award winning economist Angus Deaton, which shows significant deterioration in health metrics among middle-aged, non-college educated whites since around the turn of the millennium, specifically:

…… a cessation and reversal of the decline in midlife mortality for US white non-Hispanics after 1998. From 1978 to 1998, the mortality rate for US whites aged 45–54 fell by 2% per year on average, which matched the average rate of decline in the six countries shown, and the average over all other industrialized countries. After 1998, other rich countries’ mortality rates continued to decline by 2% a year. In contrast, US white non-Hispanic mortality rose by half a percent a year. No other rich country saw a similar turnaround. The mortality reversal was confined to white non-Hispanics; Hispanic Americans had mortality declines indistinguishable from the British (1.8% per year), and black non-Hispanic mortality for ages 45–54 declined by 2.6% per year over the period.

(Anne Case & Angus Deaton, “Rising morbidity and mortality in midlife among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 112, no. 49, December 8, 2015, pp. 15078-15083.)

As I noted previously, there has been a significant increase in government dependency for health care since 1997, and that shift from job-based benefits might have had a negative impact on this population. However, the crisis among middle-aged, non-college educated whites is not directly to do with the health system. Drinking, drug abuse, and suicides all increased significantly in the last two decades.

Whether President Trump’s plan to “Make America Great Again” will restore the previously positive 20th century trend of mortality improvement for non-college educated whites is a question that will be examined carefully in the years to come.

Comments (7)

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  1. Ronald Greiner says:

    The system is rigged. People like you John, with your PHD, don’t pay taxes on your employer-based over-priced health insurance from your employer the NCPA. So, when poor hardworking Americans pay for their Obamacare without tax credits because of the vile family glitch, they are paying with after tax dollars! What a scam.

    When Nancy Pelose said we have to pass Obamacare to find out who the big winners are she was talking about you John and your tax-free employer-based health insurance – you are a winner John and poor real Americans are the losers, and are paying all kinds of taxes on their health insurance. It’s not fair.

    John should be paying taxes on his health insurance too.

    OR – We the people should be treated the same.

  2. Barry Carol says:

    “Drinking, drug abuse, and suicides all increased significantly in the last two decades”

    Correct. Even comprehensive first dollar health insurance coverage probably wouldn’t have made any difference in those cases. Drug overdose cases especially are way up among young white people.

  3. Bob Hertz says:

    I am curious as to how one can ascertain the amount of drinking, drug use, and physical inactivity exists in a certain area. (diabetes rates would come from medical records and drug order records.)

    Just curious.

    The death rates are ascertainable of course, and that is the real sad thing here. We have a mild version here of what happened to Russian males after the fall of Communism.

    • Allan says:

      You can find information in health reports, legal actions etc. People that take drugs and alcohol regularly seem to end up in hospitals and end up being arrested or ticketed.

  4. Big Truck Joe says:

    The irony is that what Barack Obama peddled in 2008, “hope”, is that thing (or lack thereof) that is the main cause for suicides, alcoholism and drug overdoses. With so many working age men out of work or working two low end hourly jobs that are not enough money to put food on the table, addiction is soon to follow. It’s a self fulfilling psychosocial prophecy in that proud men, used to being breadwinners of the family, are relegated to second class welfare citizens, leeching off the government dole. With no hope of success in the future, addiction or suicide is the more painless solution to many. Obama obviously failed this group; maybe Trump will improve the fortunes of the so called white middle class working male.

  5. Paul says:

    With real wages falling for many in the middle aged wage group of course desperation and negative behavior have increased. Combine that with accelerating taxes for that group,including property tax , and hiring based on minority preferences etc etc etc….. and there is greater stress in life. It is harder to maintain a home in a decent neighborhood. There is less time to enjoy life even if you have a job. For many in the middle class our system is failing. The answer is not narrowing choices, such IS modern day liberalism, but neither is it the Darwinism that is in fashion among many on the right. Republicans and conservatives need to reality test their politics , how does it effect the middle class, without pandering? The traditional middle class family man is demoralized.

  6. Bill says:

    “Education” makes bad people worse. Just look at the useless basket cases of feminists majoring in ‘gender studies’ of college campuses today. There are a lot of bad people that hide behind the false credibility of a ‘degree’, no different than those that hide behind a collar.

    Being ‘college educated’ gives bad people that have become worse more of an ability to screw up the lives of people and any organized way of serving humanity than anything I am aware of. Having little or no conscience, all they have left is their puny intellects which were created to serve it’s noble moral authority, not rule in place of it. Sociopathic narcissistic, derelict intellectuals thinking themselves wise.They are a staple in every anchor seat in main stream media, telling us everyday that wrong is right, and that we have a right to be wrong in America, if we ‘feel’ we do.

    No group of people have ever been disparaged throughout the ages more than those that are able to live from the calm common sense decency all were made with, developing their moral character with it using it’s intuitive powers to guide their way through life, serving others. They even hung it’s greatest champion on a Cross. And they still would, even today, placing Him in their hateful ‘non college educated white man’ category.