Most people would assume that children would live longer than parents. But there is now mounting evidence that this trend has reversed itself for educated whites, a group whose life expectancy has fallen by four years since 1990.
The reason? Unclear. Many scientists believe prescription drug overdoses, higher rates of smoking, rising obesity and the lack of health insurance for many Americans is to blame.
“We’re used to looking at groups and complaining that their mortality rates haven’t improved fast enough, but to actually go backward is deeply troubling,” said John G. Haaga, head of the Population and Social Processes Branch of the National Institute on Aging.
These drops in left expectancies have helped bring the US in international life expectancy rankings, particularly for women. As of 2010, American woman fell to 41st compared to 14th place in 1985.
“There’s this enormous issue of why,” said David Cutler, an economics professor at Harvard, “It’s very puzzling and we don’t have a great explanation.”
Researchers have offered various theories as to why Americans are dying younger, but cautioned that no one could fully explain the findings.