Poor White Women Are Dying and Nobody Seems to Care

Dear Friends and Readers,
Last week was a busy and productive week. I spent most of my
time writing about things that I cared about. . I was fortunately fired from my
tedious legal job in Washington D.C. which has allowed me to write an article
for a legal magazine and to help a hairdresser who got into a legal trap of
unbelievable proportions. Over the week, I thought about all of you. I hope
that my articles have been at least entertaining, if not informative. There has
been a story that has not received much attention in the national news media
and so, I thought I would share it with you. The article was called “What’s
Killing Poor White Women?”  Researchers
say that the fact that white women who have not completed high-school have
lowered their life expectancy by five years is something that only happens
during a war, genocide, pandemic or massive governmental collapse. . The
journal “Health Affairs” reported the five year drop last August. This study
had done something that other studies had not which was to single out women who
had dropped out of high-school from those who had only completed high-school.
The researchers who found this dramatic drop in life expectancy for white women
without high school diplomas could not explain why it’s happening.
Researcher have long known since 1960 that education was
linked to longer life.  Researchers have
since tried to pry out the importance of education and life expectancy and have
concluded that each additional year of schooling added about 1 year of life expectancy.  Other researchers say that education is not
the “elixir” of life, but education is associated with a longer life.
Researchers also admit that there might be other factors included as to why
people with more education seem to live longer, but they have not been able to
date to quantify those other possible associations with longer life. Some have
speculated that more educated people have the ability to delay gratification
and pleasure and possibly risky behavior because we have learned to look ahead
into the future. (This would be a great theory but for people like myself who
are highly educated but still succumbed to street drugs.) However, none of
these theories could explain why the least educated group of white women were
dying so much younger than they did two decades ago.
Rural poverty seemed to provide a clue, but did not entirely
answer the question. Last March two researchers from the University of
Wisconsin reported that women  in nearly
half  of the  3, 140 counties in the United states saw their
death rates rise. The areas most represented in this research project splashed
across Appalachia down through Kentucky and Tennessee  north of the cotton belt and across the
Ozarks the parts of the South where poor white people live. While rural poverty
was a clue, it did not explain why  black
women who were without high school diplomas were not seeing this drastic
reduction of life expectancy. Why? 
Researchers say as a group blacks are more likely to die
younger because the factors that determine wellbeing, income education and
access to health care tend to be worse for blacks, yet blacks are closing the
life expectancy gaps with whites. Then why were white women dying when their
black counterparts were not? Some researchers simply say that life became
harder in the 1990’s and 2000s. They say that broad scale shifts in society
have isolated those who don’t finish high-school from good jobs, marriage
partners, and healthier communities. James Jackson, a public health researcher
at the University of Michigan says “The opportunities available to you are very
different than what they were 20 years ago. What kind of job are you going to
get if you drop out at 16? No job.”
In May of this year, Jennifer Karas Montez of the Harvard
Center for Population and Development Studies co-authored an paper
investigating why white women without high school diplomas might be dying. Most
researchers have looked at the diseases that were killing this group of women,
but Montez wanted to look at quality of life indicators. What Montez discovered
was whether a white woman without a diploma had a job as a significant factor
in her life expectancy. This single factor of whether a woman had  a job seemed to matter more than income or
other signs of financial stability, like homeownership. In fact Montez found
that smoking and employment were the only two factors of any significance.
The researchers were surprised and tested their hypothesis.
Perhaps these women were already unhealthy and were less able to work and
therefore more likely to die. This hypothesis did not hold up. The answer
remained the same “work”. The researchers concluded that work connects women to
friends and other social networks that they otherwise wouldn’t have. The bottom
line that is that  jobs might give women
a sense of purpose. But more questions arose, most importantly why was the life
expectancy rate of  black women without
high-school diplomas was not being lowered by the same dramatic number of
Some of the reasons postulated were that low income white
women smoke and drink and abuse prescription drugs like OxyContin and street
drugs like Meth more than black women. But this was not a complete answer. Why
would white women without high-school diplomas choose participate in these high
risk behaviors? Another theory arose as what kind of place people live in, who
is around them and what hose neighbors are doing play a central role. Health is
also a matter of place and time. . The journal “Health Affairs” reported the
five year drop last August. But sadly as one commentator said “Nobody cares
about poor white women without high-school diplomas.”  I say that we should all care, but more
importantly perhaps somewhere someone can reach out to these young woman and
tell them that a high-school diploma might save your life.
Brianna S. Clark,
The Addict Writes

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