Death rates surge among women in U.S.

The entry of a certain candidate into the 2016 presidential election will surely raise questions about gender equality all over again. But it seems all the recent shifts in social and economic circumstances helped produce gender equality in at least one way nobody bargained on–increasing mortality rates for women so they are equal to men, at least in death.

In a new report, the Urban Institute–a D.C. think-tank–found that death rates among U.S. white women ages 15 to 54 years climbed substantially between 1999 and 2011. As I often explain, death rates are good numbers to use because statisticians can’t manipulate them. (Although they can do a good job manipulating taxes.)

This dramatic jump in death rates surprised me, since U.S. women have historically enjoyed lower mortality rates during the 20th century. In fact, once mortality during childbirth started to come under control more than 100 years ago, U.S. women have generally been healthier and more long-lived than men. And many scientists consider females hardier or more resilient than males, genetically speaking.

So what’s going on with these naturally resilient women in the U.S.? And why are their death rates suddenly going back up?

If death rates are increasing, it means some other measure (or measures) of health is getting worse. In this case, the researchers blame prescription drugs and painkillers for the increase in death rates among these women. In addition, suicide rates among women are also on the rise, and women are more likely to use drug overdose to commit suicide compared to men. Perhaps the upswing in prescription antidepressant use, which causes suicides, contributes to this unhappy trend as well.

Interestingly, black woman used to have much higher mortality rates than white women. But according to the new report, death rates among black women declined by 23 percent, the biggest decline since the start of the 21st century.

Hispanic women also posted death rate declines. Of course, both Hispanic men and women of all age groups have lower mortality rates than all other groups overall.

Scientists call this observation the Hispanic Paradox, similar to the French Paradox or the Roseto Effect.

You see, Hispanics generally don’t worry as much about strictly following the government’s politically correct advice about cholesterol, diet, lifestyle, salt, smoking, and other supposedly dangerous “risk factors.” But overall, they have better health and lower death rates anyway. Hence, the “paradox”…in the minds of the government scientists anyway.

But take a step back and look at the bigger picture. These communities usually pay more attention to children, community, cultural traditions, family, religion, and spirituality. Plus, they have better approaches to embrace life and manage stress–all of which lower heart disease and other diseases.

Of course, as I reminded you again yesterday, the government’s recommendations about cholesterol, saturated fats and salt were all wrong, all along. So, when you think about it…if you live longer not following health advice that’s wrong, it’s not really such a “paradox” after all.


  1. “Why death rates among white women are soaring,” Washington Post ( 3/5/2015