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Can't Afford to Live

Alexander Stewart 1886 Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Emeritus

In November 2015, Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton published a paper that was the first to group deaths from overdose, suicide, and liver cirrhosis under the umbrella of despair. This study, alongside their subsequent research, led to the popularization of the phrase “deaths of despair.” The coinage specifically applied to middle-aged working-class white people who were dying prematurely in such high numbers that it was raising the entire country’s midlife death rate. Mortality rates, from suicide in particular, had been steadily falling among other wealthy countries, except in the United States. Life expectancy, a basic indicator of a society’s health, was simultaneously improving around the world, except in the United States.


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