Apparently there has been a significant decline in life expectancy of poor white women who dropped out of high school. In the past 18 years they have lost 5 years of life expectancy. They now have a lower life expectancy than African American women who have dropped out of high school. In many ways the article is frustrating, but here’s the meat of it:
The journal Health Affairs reported the five-year drop in August. The article’s lead author, Jay Olshansky, who studies human longevity at the University of Illinois at Chicago, with a team of researchers looked at death rates for different groups from 1990 to 2008. White men without high-school diplomas had lost three years of life expectancy, but it was the decline for women like Crystal that made the study news. Previous studies had shown that the least-educated whites began dying younger in the 2000s, but only by about a year. Olshansky and his colleagues did something the other studies hadn’t: They isolated high-school dropouts and measured their outcomes instead of lumping them in with high-school graduates who did not go to college.
The last time researchers found a change of this magnitude, Russian men had lost seven years after the fall of the Soviet Union, when they began drinking more and taking on other risky behaviors. Although women generally outlive men in the U.S., such a large decline in the average age of death, from almost 79 to a little more than 73, suggests that an increasing number of women are dying in their twenties, thirties, and forties. “We actually don’t know the exact reasons why it’s happened,” Olshansky says. “I wish we did.”
One factor the article barely mentions is access to health care. That’s the first thing I wanted to know — do these women have access to health care? It’s unlikely they’ll find jobs with benefits, so are they on Medicaid? The article doesn’t say. Duh.
The “example” the article focuses on, a morbidly obese woman who died at 38 of natural causes, had been told by a doctor that she was diabetic, and she was “waiting to get medicine.” How long had she been waiting? What was the holdup? See what I mean by frustrating?
I also wanted to know if there was a difference between women in this demographic who lived in cities/suburbs and those who lived in rural areas. It’s so much easier to become really isolated if you live in rural America.
The story focuses on a family in northern Arkansas. I know the area slightly, and it’s not much different from where I grew up. The girls who get pregnant in high school drop out and spend the rest of their lives taking care of children and maybe a neglectful husband or a succession of boyfriends, and no one takes care of them. Often the family/community support that sustained their grandmothers is pretty much gone. If there is any part of our population that constitutes a canary in a coal mine, it’s them.