White Americans are living shorter lives for the first time in decades, according to a federal study released Wednesday. The New York Times reports white life expectancy dropped from 78.9 years in 2013 to 78.8 years in 2014, and the likely reasons are troubling. "For the age group 25 to 54, suicide went up," demographer Elizabeth Arias tells NPR. "'Unintentional poisonings,' which is mainly alcohol and drug poisoning, and chronic liver disease—those went up by quite a bit." She says having young and middle-age people dying in high enough numbers to affect life expectancy is "very unusual." Historically, such a large increase in deaths among the younger population would be associated with things like large-scale wars. CNN identifies other potential causes of declining life expectancy in whites as gun deaths and car accidents.
Increasing mortality hit white women hardest; they saw their life expectancy decline for the first time since the government started keeping records. "There are people for whom life expectancy is falling—and that's happening at a time where everywhere else and for every other group we're seeing all these amazing gains in survival," one expert tells NPR. Increasing rates of suicide, drug overdoses, and liver disease offset a reduction in deaths from cancer, strokes, and heart disease. The report does contain some good news: Black Americans are living longer and finally closing the life expectancy gap with whites. Life expectancy for blacks increased from 75.5 in 2013 to 75.6 in 2014. Hispanics saw a 0.2-year gain in 2014, increasing their life expectancy to 81.8. (Read more life expectancy stories.)