Weekend Reads | The Midlife Crisis and White Supremacist ‘Gangs’

by Kevin Schofield

Elliott Jaques, a 20th-century psychoanalyst, is credited with coining the term “midlife crisis” in an article he wrote in 1965, although he credits author-artist Richard Church with the definition in his autobiography:

There seems to be a biological reason why, by the time men and women hit their mid-thirties, concerns, nagging questions, and a loss of zest for life plague them.

Jaques believed that at the heart of the “midlife crisis” is coming to terms with the certainty and inevitability of one’s mortality.

Surely the idea of ​​a midlife crisis was the stuff of endless songs, movies, and television episodes—as well as the impetus for real-life adventures of people in their forties and fifties. It is also often derided as a “phase” someone goes through. But is the midlife crisis a real thing? A forthcoming research paper suggests that this is the case – and on a much larger scale than we might care to admit.

Researchers delved extensively into studies of various measures of personal suffering in wealthy nations, including suicide rates, sleep problems, alcohol addiction, difficulty concentrating, memory problems, workload, migraines, suicidal thoughts and depression. They found the same recurring pattern: rates were low in the very young and old, and peaked in middle age. They found that this pattern was consistent over decades. For example, here is the data for suicide rates in England and Wales in different age groups each year from 2001 to 2020:

Graph showing suicide rates in England and Wales from 2001 to 2020; compiled from data generously provided by the authors of The Midlife Crisis.

So there is a clear and consistent pattern of high levels of distress for middle-aged people; What is not clear is why. It carries over to rich nations (although there is less data on poorer nations to know if there is a pattern there too); perhaps it could be something to do with economies, governments, or “rich nations” societies. The researchers speculate that “unfulfilled expectations” in midlife or “increasing wisdom” in older years could be the cause of the rapid decline in these levels of suffering. They can’t tell if the midlife crisis is a timeless part of human nature or a temporary “by-product of today’s affluent world.”

Still, midlife crisis appears to be widespread and having serious repercussions on the lives of people in their 30s, 40s and 50s – enough to make one wonder whether public health officials should be paying attention.

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Certainly, health researchers have been looking at this for some time — and that leads us to delve into a second “read” this week, a 2015 research paper that the midlife crisis researchers cited in their paper. The paper highlights that “all-cause mortality” — the rate of people dying from any cause — trended steadily downward between 1970 and 2013 for middle-aged people in most places in Europe and North America, with the exception of one group that was growing Bucking this trend from the start 1999: White non-Hispanic US persons aged 45-54.

In comparison, the all-cause mortality rate fell significantly among middle-aged Black non-Hispanics and among middle-aged Hispanics. The researchers analyzed the data further and found that all of the increase for white non-Hispanics came from those whose educational attainment extended to a high school diploma. Indeed, mortality falls slightly among those with a college degree and by a larger amount among those with a college degree, but the increase among the less educated is large enough to overwhelm the other demographic groups.

The researchers then looked for patterns in the causes of death in this group. They found that the increase was caused by a small group of “external” causes, primarily chronic liver disease (from excessive alcohol consumption), poisoning (often from drug use), and suicide.

They then examined the ‘morbidity’ for that group, the ailments and illnesses they reported and how they had changed over 15 years. The researchers found that in middle-aged people, general health had deteriorated, reports of pain had increased, mental health assessments had declined, alcohol consumption had increased, and they had more difficulty with normal daily activities, such as walking, climbing stairs , shopping, and socializing. All of this aligns with what the midlife crisis researchers found: Middle age is a time when stress mounts. But it’s apparently most acute for whites in the US with a low level of education.

It is not difficult to see the social and political implications of this. There is a wealth of data showing that educational attainment and income levels are correlated: people with low levels of education – of all races and ethnicities – have lower incomes in our society and often have jobs that offer no benefits, including essential ones, such as B. Health care. We know that people of color without higher education are disproportionately drawn into the revolving door of the criminal justice system and often remain there for the rest of their lives. Low-educated white people are less likely to be drawn into the criminal justice system, but as we have seen, the data shows that they are clearly not successful in their middle years, and this makes them easy prey for the new generation of “white gangs”. ‘, like the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers, who offer them ways to alleviate some of their midlife struggles: a social connection with their peers and a sense of purpose.

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Now let’s be clear: this in no way justifies, excuses or praises what these far-right groups are doing or what they stand for; the evidence shows they are racist, homophobic, toxic and violent. But just as we can see that criminal justice reform requires moving upstream and understanding the events and circumstances that bring someone into contact with the criminal justice system – or similarly, the circumstances that bring someone to join a street gang – If we are to stop the spread and growth of white nationalist gangs, we must understand the circumstances that bring a person to the point in their life where they are open to and vulnerable to being recruited into one.

These two papers give us new insights into what is happening. Generally, people in so-called “rich countries” like ours hit a crisis when they hit middle adulthood: most stressors, including those related to health, stress, work, mental fitness, mental health, etc. Substance abuse, peak at this one Time. Many of them turn to drugs or alcohol; some of them begin to consider taking their own lives; and some seek to join a cohort of peers who (usually falsely) promise to provide a way out of their physical and emotional distress. And the data shows that in America today, this crisis is particularly profound for middle-aged, low-educated white people.

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Our society has many problems. An extremely serious problem is that we do not provide many young people of color with access to the equitable education and economic opportunities that will enable them to thrive as adults, and then we weaponize the criminal justice system to try to ensnare them to subjugate. Another problem seems to be that we also fail to provide many young white people with access to a decent education and economic opportunities that will enable them to thrive as adults, and then we abandon them to the worst aspects of our society: drugs, alcohol, Violence and white nationalist gangs. If we are to save our country from the abyss that many believe we are rushing towards, it seems clear that we must solve these two critical problems.

The midlife crisis

Increasing midlife morbidity and mortality among white non-Hispanic Americans in the 21st century

Kevin Schofield is a freelance author and publishes Seattle paper trail. He previously worked for Microsoft, published Inside the Seattle City CouncilShe was co-host of Seattle News, Views and Brews podcast, and raised two daughters as a single father. He is a member of the Board of Directors of Woodland Park Zoo, where he also volunteers.

📸 Featured image from Johnny Silvercloud/Shutterstock.com.

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