Losing the Narrative of Your Life

Angus Deaton won a Nobel prize in economics for his study on intricate measures of human well-being, but his latest study has created more buzz than any other published work he has done. What is the topic of his latest study? Since 1999, there is a dramatic and unique increase in the death of middle-aged white Americans, while other ethnic, racial and age groups’ death rates have declined in the U.S.A.. This pattern does not exist in other high-income countries.

This study was co-authored by Deaton’s fellow Princeton economist Anne Case, who is also his wife. They researched causes for this white middle-aged American pattern and found: a big increase in suicides, a greater reliance on opioid painkillers leading to horrible health/mortality outcomes, poisonings (prescription drug-related deaths), and chronic liver diseases from drugs and alcohol. It added up to substance abuse.

As an economist, Deaton explains that this demographic group is facing greater economic insecurity over the last decade or more. These Americans may have had higher expectations for their futures about getting ahead, having a secure and comfortable retirement, and being able to be generous with their families. Their dreams may be dashed by a harsh economic climate. Deaton said in an interview that middle-aged white Americans have “lost the narrative of their lives.” This poetic phrase grabs me.

What is the narrative of your life? How much of it depends upon economics? Or relationships? Or accomplishments? Or service to others? Or creativity? Or something greater than yourself? Or what?

Are your best days behind you? Or are your best days in front of you?

*Note: Absolute mortality rates in the U.S.A. are highest among African Americans, followed by whites, then Hispanics, and then Asian Americans.