So, what is going on with white women in America?
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Premature death rates in America have been on a steady decline for a number of years now, with the exception of one demographic group—white women. According to an analysis of national health and mortality statistics by The Washington Post, middle-aged white women (think 30’s, 40’s and 50’s) have seen a sharp increase in early mortality rates since the turn of the 21st century.
The Post examined death records from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and discovered an alarming trend of deteriorating health among white women, especially those living in rural areas across the South and Midwest. Since the year 2000, the premature death rate among white women in rural areas has increased by 48 percent. While some areas are more impacted than others, hardly any region seems to be immune from this staggering trend, with the exception of a few major urban cities. However, even in urban metropolises such as Los Angeles and New York City, the death rates among white women are decreasing, but at a slower rate than among African Americans or Hispanics -- a historical precedent.
So, what is going on with white women in America? Researchers speculate a number of factors are at play in this slow-motion public health epidemic. One theory is that white women are experiencing an unprecedented amount of modern stressors due to significant changes in gender roles over the past 50 years. More and more women are juggling the workforce alongside their traditional roles as domestic caregivers. Stress levels seem to be on the rise and women are increasingly engaging in risky behaviors, including excessive drinking and smoking. Death from cirrhosis of the liver has nearly doubled since the year 2000 and lung cancer now kills far more women than breast cancer. It also cannot be overlooked that nearly one-third of Americans are obese, a known risk factor for early death.
Researchers have also noted an interesting correlation between the regulatory approval of oxycodone, a prescription opiate, and the rise of early death rates. Compared to other demographics, there is a disproportionately high rate of opioid abuse (both illegal and prescribed) among white individuals. Ninety percent of the people who tried heroin last year were white.
As more white women are dying prematurely, the early death rates among African Americans and Hispanics continue to fall. Even so, white women continue to be more statistically advantaged than any other demographic. African Americans still have shorter lifespans and are affected disproportionately by certain health conditions, including heart disease, hypertension, diabetes and asthma. African Americans are also less likely to have health insurance. While white women are still outliving African Americans of both sexes, the gap is decreasing steadily, especially for those born after 1960.
Among any affluent country, rising mortality rates are extremely rare and tend to occur only in countries undergoing a major upheaval. Yet in the United States, which is considered the least healthy affluent nation, the trend of early death rates continues to surge among white women and shows no signs of slowing down.