Growing sense of social status threat and concomitant deaths of despair among whites

man bent over with head placed down in hands

Summary of Key Points

  • While white mortality rates have risen in recent years, primarily due to an increase in “deaths of despair” (e.g. suicides, drug overdoses), these trends cannot be explained solely by their declining absolute economic position. Crucially, while Blacks and Hispanics have experienced similar economic downturns, their mortality rates show no such rise.
  • These increases in white mortality rates are not restricted to the lowest education brackets, nor are they restricted to narrow age ranges.
  • The authors propose an alternate explanation: an increased perception among white that they are losing social status, which manifests itself in increased psychological and physiological stress, with negative health consequences.
  • Analyzing election data from 2000-2016, an increase in the Republican vote in a particular county (a reflection of stress about social status) is strongly associated with an increase in the white mortality rate in that county.