Between 2014 and 2015, life expectancy in the United States dropped for the first time after rising for decades. It has continued decreasing, rousing concern among demographers and public health officials and prompting the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to convene a group of experts to make sense of the numbers.
Penn’s Irma Elo, a member of the Committee on Rising Midlife Mortality Rates and Socioeconomic Disparities, was invited to participate because of previous work she’d conducted on geographic, racial, and ethnic mortality disparities in the U.S. “As a group, we decided to focus on working-age mortality when we found it was clear that mortality was not only rising for those ages 45 to 55 but also for younger age groups, starting at age 25, and older, up to age 65,” she says.
The group included economists, sociologists, public health experts, and demographers. In early March, they published their findings in a peer-reviewed report, “High and rising mortality rates among working-age adults.” They concluded that since 2010 young and middle-aged adults have overall been dying at higher rates, primarily due to drug overdoses, alcohol, suicide, and surprisingly, cardiometabolic conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
“The increase in mortality for these age groups is striking and unprecedented,” says Penn demographer Samuel Preston, one of the report’s eight external reviewers. “The report does an excellent job documenting these trends and investigating their causes. This crisis is not getting the attention it deserves.”
Penn Today spoke with Elo about the report and its implications for the U.S.
Irma Elo is a professor and chair of the Department of Sociology in the School of Arts & Sciences and a research associate at the& Population Studies Center and Population Aging Research Center.
Samuel Preston is a professor in the Department of Sociology in the School of Arts & Sciences and a research associate at the Population Studies Center.