Response to Rising Mortality Rates for Working-Class Whites

This letter was originally published in The New York Times.

To the Editor:

If we pay attention to the social science research, we can know exactly why the mortality rates of middle-aged white Americans have been rising dramatically since 1999, as Paul Krugman notes. In our increasingly self-obsessed American culture, we have sacrificed our communities and close friendships for our “selfies” and our individual ambitions, and the consequences have been devastating.

Since 2000, we have skyrocketing rates of social isolation, loneliness, suicide and mass violence, particularly among white men. Mix social isolation with economic problems and you are likely to also get high rates of drug and alcohol abuse.

The reason “Hispanic Americans are considerably poorer than whites, but have much lower mortality” is they have been able to maintain stronger communities and are thus less socially isolated. Until we recognize that our distinctly American privileging of the self over the community is killing those of us who are not part of a loving and tight-knit community, the mortality rates will continue to increase.

NIOBE WAY

New York

The writer is a professor of applied psychology at New York University and the founder of the Project for the Advancement of Our Common Humanity.

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