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Life Expectancy Decline: Have Young Americans Lost Hope Amid Plenty?

Life Expectancy: It’s been a given since America began industrializing in the mid-1800s that each generation would live longer than the one that came before. Since 2014, however, an alarming reversal has taken place, with life expectancy slipping each year. How can that be?




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The release of the U.S. mortality data has typically been a humdrum affair, with little notice by the major media. Not now. On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their data for 2017. The average American can expect to live to 78.6 years, the CDC said, down from 78.7 years in 2016.

But that small drop is deceptive, since the decline is centered mainly in men. Women’s life expectancy has remained unchanged since 2014, while men have seen their lifespans fall from 76.5 in 2014 to 76.1 this year.

The last time such a drop happened was from 1915 to 1918. That period coincided with World War I and the deadly Spanish flu epidemic, which together claimed 792,000 American lives.

What’s happening?

Shocking Trends

While some of it is conjecture, a number of shocking trends have plainly emerged.

For one, suicide rates have soared by 33% from 1999 to 2017, data show. Suicide rates are at their highest in 50 years. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for ages 10 to 34, and the fourth leading cause for 35 to 54.

And the opioid epidemic is taking a toll, as well. Deaths due to drug overdose have surged 10% in the last year alone, from 63,632 in 2016 to 70,237 in 2017. Since 1999, the drug overdose rate is up 255%.

Interestingly, as one might expect, the biggest increase in death rates came among the older millennial cohort, from 25 to 34. The older half of the Gen-X group, stretching from roughly 45 to 54, was the only broad group to see an actual decline in their mortality rate.

Life Expectancy Drop: A ‘Wakeup Call’

“Life expectancy gives us a snapshot of the nation’s overall health and these sobering statistics are a wakeup call that we are losing too many Americans, too early and too often, to conditions that are preventable,” said CDC Director Robert R. Redfield.

Why are so many young Americans, mostly male and in the prime of their lives, engaging in such self-destructive behavior?

There are many plausible explanations. New super-potent synthetic opioids on the market. And of course, Americans own many guns.

But those are immediate causes, not ultimate causes. There’s something deeper at work, but what is it?.

Is it a lack of purpose for young people? A disengagement for all those still out of the workforce from the mainstream of life? Are young people tiring of the perpetual political polarization surrounding them in every social venue these days? Are America’s sharp political divisions driving people to self-medicate and even kill themselves?

“I really do believe that people are increasingly hopeless, and that leads to drug use, it leads potentially to suicide,” said George Washington University disease prevention expert William Dietz.

Is Generation ‘Woke’ Deeply Unhappy?

Maybe young people leaving hyper-politicized social environments in their high schools and colleges are finding their beliefs at odds with real life. Are these young people, many of whom come from small, single-parent families, cut adrift and socially isolated? Are social media making large numbers of people, particularly the vulnerable young, depressed?

As we noted earlier, recent polls suggest a strong trend towards alienation and even disengagement from mainstream American culture and political life among young people. Some of it can be attributed to a kind of cultural self-loathing that never really existed in the U.S. before, except at the very fringes. Now it’s gone mainstream.

“Basically, (a new YouGov poll) found younger generations — millennials (age 22-27) and Gen Z (age 14-21) — are less likely to love and respect the country,” we noted recently. “And they’re less informed about American history, and way more likely to embrace socialism. Is that just evidence of youthful ignorance? Or is it the result of a school system that indoctrinates children in leftist ideology?”

And does all the political hate students are force-fed alienate young people from others in their country to such a degree that it spawns a sense of hopelessness, separation and despair?

All this is merely conjecture, of course. But there’s a sense that, for today’s younger generation, life no longer holds the wonder and beauty it had for earlier generations. If “It’s A Wonderful Life” were to be remade today, it might be retitled “It’s A Tedious Chore.”

Fertility Falling, Too

There’s one other interesting thing of note: As life expectancy declines, so are fertility rates. Usually, fertility rates rise with the economy.

But this year, U.S. fertility rates reached a new low, as many young people apparently decided that starting a family is not a necessary — or even desirable — part of a person’s life. This coincides, too, with a near-collapse in religious faith among the young. Given the general intellectual poverty of college education these days, they don’t even have the consolation of philosophy to fill the religion void.

Are they losing hope of finding deeper meaning, even amid the wealth and opportunity our society provides? Do their half-empty apartments, dearth of children and lack of faith leave them all alone in the world? It’s one possible answer, though surely not the only one.

Can anything be more sad than that? Yes, these are complex problems that defy easy programmatic fixes by big government. So perhaps Americans, who are busier and less family-oriented now than perhaps ever, need to restart a conversation with their kids and their young adults. Find some common ground. Bring their families back together. Re-engage with the community and long-ignored friends. Turn off the TV and put down the cellphone and, above all, talk.

After all, if these data tell us anything, it’s that a generation’s future may be at stake.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:

Millennials May Love Socialism, But Socialism Won’t Love Them Back

Why Are So Many Millennials Ignorant Anti-Americans?

Reversing The Tragic Trends Of Our Time


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