Why Are Death Rates Rising Among Whites in Missouri?

Photo of older rural white man looking off into distance

While life expectancies have generally been improving in the U.S. and other industrialized countries for generations, white mortality rates for those aged 25-49 have decreased in 79 of 114 Missouri counties since 2000. The affected counties are mostly rural, and the people living there are suffering from what researchers have dubbed “deaths of despair.” These deaths have a variety of causes, but all speak to a feeling of hopelessness and a lack of opportunity. This unprecedented trend is affecting both men and women, and it is not limited to just Missouri.

Certain groups of people of color still suffer from a higher overall mortality rate, but their life expectancy continues to lengthen. While efforts must continue to reduce the inequity in mortality rates for all groups, it is also important to bring attention to this disturbing reversal in long-term trends. There is hope that this work will further an examination of overall disparities in life spans, and bring greater attention to the need to strengthen the social safety net that all U.S. citizens rely upon.