May 22, 2018 | News | Suessmilch Lecture

The US Midlife Mortality Crisis: "Deaths of despair"?

On May 29 at 3 p.m. Robert Hummer from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) will give a Süßmilch lecture at the MPIDR main auditorium about the much deabted claims on increases in midlife mortality among white low-educated Americans.

Put to test: Claims that the US midlife mortality increases through drug overdoses, suicides, and alcohol-related liver mortality in white Americans. © b-fruchten /

What is the talk about?

High-profile articles by Case and Deaton (2015, 2017) have shown that the United States is facing a crisis of rapidly increasing rates of midlife mortality.

Evidence suggests that the crisis has been brought on by sharp increases in rates of death due to drug poisonings, in particular, as well as by increases in rates of death due to suicides and liver diseases; together, such causes have been termed by some as “deaths of despair.”

Moreover, the mortality increases seem to be especially concentrated among the relatively low-educated White population.

The presentation focusses on trends in mortality and trends in related indicators of distress among a cohort of young adults who are about to enter midlife.

First, trends in cause-specific mortality among a cohort of adults who were aged 25-34 in the 2000s and who are now 35-44 in the 2010s will be documented. Does this cohort exhibit especially problematic rates of mortality for the causes labelled as deaths of despair? And if so, do the problematic mortality trends seem to be especially concentrated among particular subgroups of the population, such as low-educated Whites?

Second, brand new nationally-representative survey data will be used to examine trends in indicators of despair among American adults in this cohort. Do individuals who are now moving into the midlife years indicate rising levels of despair? If so, among which indicators and among which subgroups of the population?

Together, the results of this presentation should help to inform researchers and policymakers regarding patterns of mortality and indicators of despair among those who will soon be moving into midlife.

About the speaker


Robert Hummer is the Howard W. Odum Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Fellow of the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC).

His research focuses on the accurate description and more complete understanding of population health and mortality patterns and trends in the United States. His recent move to UNC was made in large part to become centrally involved in the long running National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health).

Robert Hummer is currently an investigator on the Wave V data collection funded by NICHD and is principal investigator of an NICHD grant to make Add Health data more easily accessible and usable. He is slated to become Director of Add Health for the sixth wave of data collection.

Hummer came to UNC in the summer of 2015 after spending 19 years at the University of Texas at Austin, where he served as Director of their Population Research Center between 2001–05 and Chairperson of their Department of Sociology from 2006–10. In 2010, he was presented with the Clifford Clogg Award for Early Career Achievement by the Population Association of America.

Time and Venue

Tuesday, May 29, 2018, 3 p.m., in the institute's Auditorium

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.