Life expectancy declined for white Americans in 2014, largely due to suicides, drug overdoses and alcohol abuse, according to new US government data.
Life expectancy for whites dropped to 78.8 years in 2014 from 78.9 in 2013, according to the numbers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
For white women, life expectancy fell to 81.1 in 2014 from 81.2 in 2013, the CDC said. Life expectancy for white men, at 76.5 years, also fell last year, but by a small amount that isn’t visible due to rounding.
Though that difference may seem small, experts say it is concerning when looking at past trends.
“The increase in death in this segment of the population was great enough to affect life expectancy at birth for the whole group,” said Elizabeth Arias, a statistician at the CDC who analyzed the data. “That is very unusual.”
Dr. Arias said drug overdoses, liver disease from alcohol and suicide were the main drivers of the gloomy trends among whites in recent years, a pattern also found by other researchers.
Life expectancy for whites had been rising for decades, but it has stagnated in recent years. It inched up in 2010 and 2011, and was flat in 2012 and 2013.
The overall life expectancy for Americans, 78.8, remained unchanged.
Such reversals, even small ones, are unusual for wealthy nations, where people tend to live longer with each successive generation, as health care and public safety improve and the standard of living rises.
“It’s a wake-up call,” said Ali Mokdad, a professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which has analyzed US county mortality data.
Recent research has documented surprising increases in death rates among less educated middle-aged whites. Other research has found rising rates among younger whites.
The pattern had puzzled demographers, but the recent analyses have pointed to suffering and anxiety among working-class whites.