For the first time in recorded history, the life expectancy for white women in the US has fallen.
The latest data, released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in America found the life expectancy of white women dropped from 81.2 years to 81.1 years between 2013 and 2014.
The difference of a month might not seem so concerning, but researchers say it is not a statistical blip.
“It’s significant,” said demographer Elizabeth Arias, who wrote the analysis. “Especially year after year, if you have one-tenth of a year’s increase [in mortality] every year, that adds up.”
What is more troubling than the drop itself are the reasons why. Lower life expectancy for this group of women has got nothing to do with disease – in fact, death rates from diseases like heart disease and cancer are in decline.
It’s got everything to do with substance abuse and mental health.
“For the age group 25 to 54, suicide went up,” Arias told NPR. “‘Unintentional poisonings,’ which is mainly alcohol and drug poisoning, and chronic liver disease – those went up by quite a bit.”
While these causes of death also increased in males, the change wasn’t so dramatic, and the life-expectancy for white men remained the same to the previous year.
A similar trend is seen in Australia. The national suicide rate is currently higher than it has been in the last 13 years. The reason for this statistical rise? A drastic increase in the number of young women and middle-aged Australians committing suicide.
So much so, that suicide in Australian women aged between 15 and 24 jumped by 50% between 2004 and 2014, compared to a 2% increase for men.
And the biggest group this is effecting is economically disadvantaged women. This is attributed to drug abuse and despair.
While in the US the life expectancy for white women has fallen, mortality in other groups is improving.
“There are people for whom life expectancy is falling,” professor at Dartmouth’s Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice Ellen Meara told NPR. “And that’s happening at a time where everywhere else and for every other group we’re seeing all these amazing gains in survival.”
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