Numbers I simply don’t believe

Life expectancy rose sharply in the US through the 20th century but over the past two decades fell by 25% for white Americans without a university degree even as it continued to rise for the better educated and for other races.

Apparently from Deaton and Case’s new book. And that’s not a number I believe in the slightest. There’s something screwy about it.

Of course, it could just be The Guardian’s reviewer, anyone actually know?

14 thoughts on “Numbers I simply don’t believe”

  1. Life expectancy is now three quarters what it was in 2000? That’s got to be bollocks, hasn’t it. Rate of increase maybe slowed by 25%, that’s at least plausible.

  2. Opiate addiction will have rocketed in that demographic along with possibly related suicide rates.

    Maybe these two factors could contribute to, say, a 2.5% decrease in life expectancy but even that seems a reach.

  3. What BiW said.

    Most journalists seem unaware of the distinction between a value and its differential.

    Hence my all-time favourite Telegraph headline “Food prices in Scotland double in a year”. What they meant was that the rate of increase of food prices had changed from 1.5% annually to 3% annually.

  4. What percentage of Americans lack a university degree (i) now and (ii) two decades ago? It could be that the comparison is significantly unlike-for-like – but even so I should find 2.5% more believable than 25%

  5. It is very plausible as a difference between “the 1%” and the bottom rung of trailer-park underclass. Looks like either apples versus oranges, or even apples yesterday compared to oranges today.

  6. Having studiously ignored this problem for many years, the media now egregiously misunderstands it. Is there anything they can’t fuck up?

  7. BlokeInTejasInNormandy

    Yep. The rate of improvement fell.
    And the rate of overall improvement fell because the improvement on cardiovascular treatments stalled.
    There was a just noticeable effect of increased opioid use.

    Bizarre reporting.

    OT, with the likely lack of aeroplanes and the increasing apparent isolation of theUSA, I may need to convert to BlokeInNormandy. But we’ll see.

  8. But they are white males, the patriarchy, the privileged oppressors of other races.
    I’ve made the point before in some groups that before asking people to check their privilege they should learn more about them as the colour of your skin doesn’t excuse you from a shitty life

  9. “the improvement on cardiovascular treatments stalled”: that, of course, is what some of the people hereabouts would call made-up shit. There’s never been any evidence that “treatments” made much difference to the remarkable decline in heart attack deaths in middle-aged men. They rose from the 20s to the late 60s for no known reason, and then they declined, also for no known reason.

    Some people say that the curve looks just like an epidemic’s.

  10. I would almost be willing to bet that its the *rate of increase in life expectancy* that has dropped. ‘Journalist’ having great difficulty in understanding the difference (or even that there is one) between an increase in magnitude and an increase in rate.

    It would make sense that non-college educated whites aren’t seeing their life expectancy increase as fast as everyone else – the college educated have more money and the rest are just catching up to us after we already hit that plateau.

  11. Bloke in North Dorset


    I read about a researcher that claimed that she (I’m fairly sure it was she) wrote a paper blaming fat and that coincided with the decline. It was later shown to be, to put it kindly, bullshit. Unfortunately the health freaks jumped on it and the rest, as the say, is history.

    We now appear to be learning that most dairy fats are good and certainly better than the margarine shite that was recommended in its place.

  12. “heart attack deaths in middle-aged men. They rose from the 20s to the late 60s for no known reason, and then they declined, also for no known reason.”
    Something to do with two world wars?

  13. @ dearieme
    There are a variety of causes for heart attacks, one of which is a sudden excessive (far more than the accustomed level) demand put upon the heart muscles, another of which is the constriction of arteries due to build-up of fatty deposits; so the improvement in lifestyle factors almost certainly contributed to the reduction in deaths from heart disease/attacks. The slow-down in improvement is partly because once you have eliminated most of the cause for middle-class men you cannot make any further gains; the increase in obesity among the poor is *very* likely to lead to a gradual worsening in the death rate.
    However there *is* ample evidence that the drugs (alpha-blockers, beta blockers etc.) developed in the 50s and 60s *did* contribute to reductions in mortality. For instance, “clinical trials” vetted by Medicine standards agency and FDA.

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