Uneducated, Poor White Women Are Dying Younger


In May, Jennifer Karas Montez of the Harvard University Center for Population and Development Studies co-authored the first paper investigating why white women without high-school diplomas might be dying. Most research has looked at which diseases are the cause of death, but Montez and her co-author wanted to tease out quality of life: economic indicators like employment and income, whether women were married and how educated their spouses were, and health behaviors like smoking and alcohol abuse. It is well known that smoking shortens life; in fact, smoking led to the early deaths of both of Crystal’s parents and her sister and brother. Crystal, though, never smoke or drank. But the researchers discovered something else that was driving women like her to early graves: Whether the women had a job mattered, and it mattered more than income or other signs of financial stability, like homeownership. In fact, smoking and employment were the only two factors of any significance.

In The American Prospect, Monica Potts examines why low-income white women who don’t finish high school in the U.S. have seen their life expectancy drop by five years, while most Americans, including high school dropouts of other races, have seen their life expectancies rise. Though Potts walks us through the story of Crystal Wilson, who lived in Cave City, Arkansas and died at the age of 38, the answer still remains unclear.

Photo: Oakley Originals

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