Response to Rising Mortality Rates for Working-Class Whites

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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.


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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About the Author

Niobe Way

Niobe Way

Niobe Way, Ed. D., is Professor of Applied Psychology in the Department of Applied Psychology at New York University. She is also the co-Director of the Center for Research on Culture, Development, and Education at NYU and the past President for the Society for Research on Adolescence. She received her doctorate from Harvard University in Human Development and Psychology and was an NIMH postdoctoral fellow in the psychology department at Yale University. Way’s research focuses on the intersections of culture, context, and human development, with a particular focus on the social and emotional development of adolescents. Way’s sole authored books include: Everyday Courage: The Lives and Stories of Urban Teenagers (NYU Press, 1998); and Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection (Harvard University Press, 2011). Her co-edited or co-authored books include: Urban Girls: Resisting Stereotypes, Creating Identities (NYU press, 1996); Adolescent Boys: Exploring Diverse Cultures of Boyhood (NYU Press, 2004). and Growing up Fast: Transitions to Adulthood among Inner City Adolescent Mothers (Erlbaum Press, 2001). The latter co-authored book (with Bonnie Leadbeater) received the Best Book Award from the Society of Research on Adolescence (2002). Way also writes blogs for numerous media outlets including the Huffington Post. Her research has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, The National Science Foundation, The William T. Grant Foundation, The Spencer Foundation, and by numerous other smaller foundations. Way is a nationally recognized leader in the field of adolescent development and in the use of mixed methods; she has been studying the social and emotional development of girls and boys for over two decades.