According to a March 23, 2017 article on National Public Radio (NPR) “Morning Edition”, husband and wife researchers Anne Case and Angus Deaton have discovered that deaths by suicide, drug use, and alcohol abuse have risen dramatically for older, white, middle-aged Americans with only a high school degree. These statistics remain unchanged for minorities and college-educated whites, but, since 1999, this subset of white Americans has, each year, seen their life expectancy decline, reversing the trend of 100 years.
The increase in despair
The researchers postulate that despair has struck white Americans. They marry less often. They have difficulty acquiring or maintaining good jobs. They have no hope, and so they commit suicide, or use drugs and alcohol to dull the pain, committing suicide slowly but no less inevitably.
In a previous blog, Why now?, I explored the changes in our culture that are leading to increased suicide. And in The Cost of Hidden Misery, I addressed the increase in the acceptance of premarital sex that may lead to hardness of heart and disdain for marriage, so I found this study interesting. NPR showcased two researchers who have empirically come to similar conclusions that I did, except that I did it without a government grant. (I don’t really know if they had a grant or not — but they are researchers featured on NPR….)
Of course, their solution to the problem is different than any I would have suggested.
When the family began to break down in the 1960’s because of the rise in divorce and it became obvious that, despite all predictions to the contrary, it wasn’t a good thing for the children, progressives did not say, “Oops. We made a mistake. Let’s strengthen marriage for the good of the children.” Instead, liberals said, “Let’s equip the schools to do what parents used to do. We’ll have counselors, nurses, and psychologists to take care of them, and cafeteria workers to feed them. We’ll replace the parents with the state. And if divorce means that women and children are now in poverty in greater numbers (and it did), we have welfare to replace the father.” Of course, few liberals said that outright. But that is what happened.
What the researchers suggest
The two researchers suggested that European countries are less affected (not because their populations are used to decades of high unemployment that is new to Americans or because Europeans have been marrying less for decades), but because they have better social safety nets. Once again, the liberal solution seems to be to replace what used to work (marriage and low unemployment) with a government program instead. And, of course, they took the obligatory jab at the Trump administration for cutting social spending.
But what about this?
Oddly, while all this is happening, minorities seem unaffected. And Hispanics are actually doing better than whites as far as longevity. They were perplexed at this. Statistically, they are poorer than whites. African American unemployment rates are higher than white unemployment rates. Why are these groups unaffected?
It just doesn’t fit
I’m guessing it’s because this explanation isn’t the true root of the problem, but a symptom of the problem. In other words, the explanation needs an explanation.
So, let’s ask the obvious question: Why? And why now? Do we really have it harder than our grandparents who went through the Great Depression? How about those who went through the Civil War? World War I? World War II? Why now?
I have a guess, because I think there is another factor: a decline in faith in God. This is a new phenomena in our age in which increasing numbers identify as atheist or agnostic. If we are only accidents of evolution, mutations that managed to take root, and if this life is the only life there is, then what do you have to live for if this life is unpleasant? If no one loves you but your mother, and she’s dead or in a nursing home, what do you have?
I agree with the researchers that despair leads to suicide, even if that suicide is a death by abuse. That’s a pretty unassailable conclusion. But I think God, and not a safety net, is the antidote. At least, that’s who kept me from despair during those dark period of my life when death looked like “a consummation devoutly to be wished.”
But I came out the other side of the Valley of Death, because, no matter how bad it got, I had hope. Because, with God, there is always hope.