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A study links White Americans' poor job prospects to obesity, substance abuse and death

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In 2015, two economists shook the U.S. with a study that found the mortality rate of middle-aged white Americans was skyrocketing.

On Thursday, an update to that study found it's not getting better. 

Anne Case and Angus Deaton, both Princeton professors and economists, argue that white Americans without college degrees face a "cumulative disadvantage" due to poor job prospects. That disadvantage often leads to problems like drug and alcohol abuse and obesity.

You used to be able to get a really good job with a high school diploma ... You could expect to move up.
Anne Case

Case told reporters the research found a "sea of despair" across America and a rise in people reporting physical pain.  She argued the poor job prospects stressed people out and led them to "soothe the beast" with drugs, alcohol or excess food.

The following figures show the suicide rate per 100,000 people.

  • Men without a college degree: 196 (up 130 percent from 1998 to 2015)
  • Women without a college degree: 115 (up 381 percent)
  • Men with a college degree: 47 (up 44 percent)
  • Women with a college degree: 26 (up 70 percent)

The research found the death rate spike was nationwide, rather than just being concentrated in certain regions as it was in the mid-2000s. 
Adriana Lleras-Muney, a economics professor at the University of California, said the demographic data was surprising.

"You're worse off than your parents," Lleras-Muney said of many white Americans. "Whereas for Hispanics or immigrants like myself, or blacks, yes, circumstances are bad, but they're getting better."

When such choices succeed , they are liberating ... In the worst cases of failure, this is a ... recipe for suicide.
Case/Deaton study

The study's authors also argued social changes had an impact on the death rate. The decline of the importance of marriage and religion was liberating for some, but led to dangerous isolation for others.

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