When journalists address the real world, they should do so inclusively and with “diversity” in mind, a value many media outlets trumpet.
Before the pandemic, the medical problem du jour was “deaths of despair,” the deaths attributed to alcohol, drug abuse and suicide. The Los Angeles Times had an article on deaths of despair in November, 2019; Newsweek had an article, “What are So-called Deaths of Despair? Experts Say They are on the Rise,” in January, 2020; The New Republic reported on “Why Deaths of Despair are Rising” in March, 2020; and even Foreign Affairs got into the act with “Will America’s Mortality Crisis Spread to the Rest of the World,” from its March-April 2020 issue.
Not to be outdone, the New York Times addressed “Dying of ‘Despair’ in America” in a Sunday Review in March, 2020.
Only Foreign Affairs commented on the disparity between the sexes with regard to deaths of despair.
But Foreign Affairs did not trust an article on deaths of despair to journalists.
Instead, it went straight to the co-authors of the book, “Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism,” namely Anne Case and Nobel Prize winner Angus Deaton.
They observed that “The increase in mortality is similar for men and women, although the base rates for women are lower; women are less likely to die by suicide than men and less likely to overdose or succumb to alcohol.” They added “the increase in deaths of despair has been almost exclusively among Americans without a four-year college degree.”
The New York Times article fixated on that observation: “over the past three decades, deaths of despair among whites without a college degree — especially those under age 50 — have soared.”
The article recommended “Governments at all levels should help more people earn college degrees (like B.A.’s) and meaningful vocational degrees.”
A look at the data regarding deaths of despair, however, show a huge sexual disparity.
Data from U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee’s “Long Term Trends in Death” show per 100,000 people in 1960, men experienced 25.2 deaths of despair and women 7.8 deaths. In 2000, men experienced 35.6 deaths of despair while women suffered 10.2 deaths per 100,000 people.
If deaths of despair are a blight, policy should have been and should now be directed toward helping men.
And if earning a B.A. is relevant to the problem, data on who earns those degrees is relevant. The school year 1981-82 was a watershed year as it was the first year females earned more B.A. degrees than males. In fact, women have earned more B.A.s than men every year since.
As it stands today, women continue to be preferred as undergraduates, women earning 1,100,000 B.A.s compared to men’s 822,000 degrees in 2016.
If Case and Deaton are correct and if the Times’ “Dying of ‘Despair in America” is correct in stressing the importance of earning a bachelor’s degree, then woe be it for men. Men are in for an unfortunate trend in deaths of despair over the coming years, not that journalists will notice the sexual disparity.
Richard McGowan, Ph.D., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review Foundation, has taught philosophy and ethics cores for more than 40 years, most recently at Butler University. Send comments to [email protected].