Rise in middle-aged white ‘deaths of despair’ may be fueled by loss of religion, new research paper argues

So-called deaths of despair such as from suicide or alcohol abuse have been skyrocketing for middle-aged white Americans.

It’s been blamed on various phenomenon, including opioid abuse. But a new research paper finds a different culprit — declining religious practice.

The working paper, from Tyler Giles of Wellesley College, Daniel Hungerman of the University of Notre Dame, and Tamar Oostrom of The Ohio State University, looked at the relationship between religiosity and mortality from deaths of despair. The paper was circulated by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The authors noted that many measures of religious adherence began to decline in the late 1980s. They find that the large decline in religious practice was driven by the group experiencing the subsequent increases in mortality: white middle-aged Americans without a college degree.

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