'Deaths of despair': A tale of two countries

Jan 22, 12:01 AM

Is stalling life expectancy in the US and UK due to the public spending cuts of recent years, or a long-term structural trend? What needs to be done? And might the pandemic accelerate solutions?

Life expectancy is a key indicator of our health and wellbeing. Across most OECD countries in the last ten years, life expectancy has been stalling – and stalling most in the US and the UK.

Last March, Professors Anne Case and Angus Deaton, two distinguished economists from Princeton University, published what became the must-read book of the year. That book was called Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. It showed that health has deteriorated fastest in middle-aged white Americans, and that in this population, death rates from all causes are actually rising. The biggest increases were in deaths from suicide, drugs and alcohol driven by a lack of opportunity, growing inequalities, and bleak social and economic outlook. The so-called ‘deaths of despair’.

In the meantime, here in the UK, The Marmot Review: 10 Years On was published last February looking at national health trends in England. The review revealed stalling growth in life expectancy nationally – and a reversal among people living in the poorer areas of England, in particular women.

Is this due to the public spending cuts of recent years, or a long-term structural trend? What needs to be done? And might the pandemic accelerate solutions?

In this episode, our Chief Executive Dr Jennifer Dixon is joined by two expert guests:
  • Professor Sir Angus Deaton, co-author of Deaths of Despair, and Emeritus Professor of Economics at Princeton University. Professor Deaton was awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2015.
  • Sarah O’Connor, Employment Columnist for the Financial Times.

Useful links:

Recommended reading: