A recent article by Case and Deaton on mortality trends of middle-aged white Americans vs. folks in other countries has justifiably received a lot of attention. The contrast is, to put it bluntly, dismal, and poses a fascinating puzzle. What exactly is going wrong here?
Andrew Gelman throws a little cold water on the findings, noting that the apparent rise in mortality in the data is an artifact of the changing age distribution within the 45-54 year old age group, at least for white men. The recent upward trend is largely restricted to women, and not quite so dramatic. But as he notes, the takeaway of the Case and Deaton paper still stands—namely, the international contrast: presumably the age adjustment would have similar implications for the comparison countries and make their mortality reductions look even better. Why have white Americans failed to experience the recent gains in longevity evident elsewhere around the world?