Deaths of Despair

- January 27, 2023
Why are so many Americans without college degrees dying prematurely?
Photo of black balloon day in Portland, Maine, on March 6, 2021. (Getty Images/The Boston Globe/Erin Clark)
Americans without a college degree live in a different nation than the one inhabited by more educated people. Those lacking such a credential die at higher rates from heart disease and at much higher rates from drug abuse, alcoholism and suicide. They report more pain and mental anguish, and millions no longer work or look for work.

Americans' life expectancy overall has fallen to about the same as it was in 1996. What role do deaths of despair play in that decline?

Most Americans dying from drug overdose, alcoholism and suicide lack a bachelor of arts or sciences degree. Why do you think that is happening?

1850–1900Death rates decline, and life expectancy begins to climb as a “great sanitary awakening” results in measures to provide cleaner streets, water and air.
Early 20th CenturyLife expectancy rises due to improved nutrition, medical care, vaccination, sanitation and housing. Millions of workers move to cities for manufacturing jobs.
1950–1979Post-War Industrial era provides unusual stability and prosperity.
1980sUnder pressure to cut costs, companies close plants and eliminate manufacturing jobs…. Black communities in inner cities are hit hard.
1990sCommunism collapses and trade barriers fall. U.S. “deindustrialization” accelerates, as companies close their plants and outsource American jobs to low-wage countries.
2000sAfter China joins the World Trade Organization, U.S. and Chinese economies begin to integrate, leading to more manufacturing job losses in the United States.
2010s-PresentThe “new economy” works for the college educated.

Should governments enact fair workweek laws to reduce worker stress?


Dave Kamper
Senior State Policy Coordinator, Economic Analysis and Research Network, Economic Policy Institute.


Rebekah Paxton
Director of Research and State Coalitions, Employment Policies Institute.


Dark Money

Are U.S. politics unduly influenced by secret donors?

Energy Warfare

Has the Ukraine conflict permanently altered global oil and gas markets?

The Future of Cryptocurrency

Can the industry overcome recent turmoil?


Hybrid Work - 2/3/2023
Does working from home destroy connection and culture, or improve diversity and work/life balance?

Changing Retail - 2/10/2023
Are the glory days of in-person shopping essentially over?

Reports are published online 44 times a year. Click here to see the 2023 publication schedule.

What else might you like to see from CQ Researcher? Suggest a Topic


Read the latest updates to our most popular topics