By Fareed Zakaria
Why is Middle America killing itself? The fact itself is probably the most important social science finding in years. It is already reshaping American politics. The Post’s Jeff Guo notes that the people who make up this cohort are “largely responsible for Donald Trump’s lead in the race for the Republican nomination for president.” The key question is why, and exploring it provides answers that suggest that the rage dominating U.S. politics will only get worse.
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For decades, people in rich countries have lived longer. But in a well-known paper, economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case found that over the past 15 years, one group — middle-age whites in the United States — constitutes an alarming trend. They are dying in increasing numbers. And things look much worse for those with just a high school diploma or less. There are concerns about the calculations, but even a leading critic of the paper has acknowledged that, however measured, “the change compared to other countries and groups is huge.”
The main causes of death are as striking as the fact itself: suicide, alcoholism, and overdoses of prescription and illegal drugs. “People seem to be killing themselves, slowly or quickly,” Deaton told me. These circumstances are usually caused by stress, depression and despair. The only comparable spike in deaths in an industrialized country took place among Russian males after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when rates of alcoholism skyrocketed.
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