Why So Many White American Men Are Dying

Not too long after the Soviet flag was hauled down from the Kremlin, a startling number of Russian men started dying. Young and middle-age men began to drown, get run over and suffer asphyxiation and heart attacks in shocking numbers. There were all manner of suspicious, gruesome deaths, the details of which suggested alcohol abuse and suicide. The life expectancy for Russian men was plummeting; between 1986 and 1996, it dropped from 65 to 57.
For years it was a source of great perplexity and despair, and when journalists and academics finally began to make sense of what was happening, the answers were knotty. The fall of the Soviet Union had created what the United Nations Development Programme called a “demographic collapse” brought on in large part by a “rise in self-destructive behavior, especially among men.” But all that alcoholism and drug use didn’t come out of nowhere. Many saw it as a direct result of the worsening economic conditions in Russia, where poverty and unemployment had been sharply rising since the dissolution of the USSR. The combination of no job and no foreseeable better future was driving men to drink. And the vodka was killing them, by way of liver disease, alcohol poisoning and fatal accidents. It was a gallows humor version of “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Roughly a quarter-century later, a similarly grim narrative of self-destruction and death is filling graveyards. But this time, it’s happening in the United States.
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