Drug overdoses and use has brought the average life expectancy among whites in the United States down in data released for the calendar year 2014. Other contributing factors to the lowered number aren’t terrifically rosy either with suicide and liver disease helping move the the life expectancy downward as well.
Life expectancy had been static, now it’s going down because of drug overdoses
For decades the life expectancy, especially among white people, had been moving upwards. This slowed in 2010 and 2011 where the numbers, while continuing to move to the positive, showed a glacial gain. In both 2012 and 2013 life expectancy didn’t move at all unless you were to check the fifth decimal place.
In 2014, the life expectancy for white Americans fell from 78.9 to 78.8 with the decline more evident in women do to statistical rounding. Women in the United States had a live expectancy of 81.2 in 2013 but this fell to 81.1 the following year, numbers that were recently poured over by Elizabeth Arias, a statistician at the National Center for Health Statistics charged with analyzing the data. While the life expectancy of white men also dropped, when taken to a single decimal point the number appeared to remain the same at 76.5 for both 2013 and 2014.
“The increase in death in this segment of the population was great enough to affect life expectancy at birth for the whole group,” said Arias. The group she was referring to were people from their mid-twenties to mid-fifties, a group comprised of young and middle-age adults. “That is very unusual,” she added.
Arias is not the first to notice the effects of drug overdose, suicide and liver disease on life expectancy, and Arias will soon release a larger mortality study that looks at trends over the last decade and a half.
The rise in death rates is increasingly on the rise with less educated whites, those with only a high school education. Additionally, younger whites are also dying at a higher rate due to drug use and deaths among teenagers and younger adults go a long ways towards bringing the average life expectancy down. Conversely, mortality rates among older Americans continue to fall.
Non-white life expectancy continues to rise
The life expectancy of blacks in the United States rose by the same amount as the life expectancy for whites went down. Black life expectancy rose to 75.6 in 2014 up from 75.5 in 2013. With that gain, it means blacks have added a year to their average lives in just eight years with black men seeing the biggest gain in 2014. The life expectancy of for black men rose from 71.8 in 2013 to 72.2 in 2014.
Hispanics like blacks have gained a year since 2008 and saw an increase to 81.8 in 2014 from 81.6 in 2013 with women leading that charge upwards.
Overall, the life expectancy of all Americans as an aggregate remained static in 2014 at 78.8 years.
While it appears that drug use and overdose along with suicide and liver disease are driving this most recent decline, it was the AIDS epidemic that was responsible for the last decline in life expectancy which occurred in 1993.
“There is the expectation that life expectancy will go up every year, and that has been realized just about every year over the past century,” said Samuel Preston, a demographer at the University of Pennsylvania.
That chapter, however, seems to be coming to a close as more and more people are turning to opiates to deal with the perceived rigors of their lives.