A Missouri based expert on poverty and inequality thinks economic stress contributed to a recent drop in U.S. life expectancy.

Washington University Professor of Social Welfare Mark Rank -Photo courtesy of Washington University

For the first time in over two decades, the government reported a rise in deaths between 2014 and 2015, with biggest increase occurring in people under 65.  Professor Mark Rank with Washington University in St. Louis says there’s a reason the country also saw an uptick in ailments such as heart disease, stroke and drug abuse over the same period.

“Those are all, to some extent, related to stress and anxiety” said Rank.  “What we know is that for a long period of time, but particularly recently, more and more people are really struggling economically.  I think that may be at least one factor in all of this.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported a drop in life expectancy of point-one percent, the first such dip since 1993.  The average life span is now just under 79 years.

Rank contends the drop is partially linked to the downward trajectory of Americans’ confidence in their financial future.  “The idea of the American Dream is often that you’ll do better economically than your parents will.  That’s been true for years and years.  But for this latest generation, it turns out it’s not nearly as true as it was in the past.”

Rank thinks the recent election reflects Americans’ anxiety over economic insecurity.  He points to a recent Stanford University study which shows income inequality hindering kids ability to grow up an make more money that their parents.

The research by economists and sociologists concludes that, adjusted for inflation, only half the children born in the 1980s grew up to earn more than their parents. That’s a drop from 92 percent of children born in 1940.

Rank thinks a widening gap in income between haves and have not’s is inflaming feelings of economic anxiety, and thus the drop in life expectancy.

“Those who earn a greater income and have more education tend to live more much longer than those with less income and less education” said Rank.  “In fact, I was just looking at something the other day that showed the top ten percent versus the bottom ten percent, the difference in life expectancy is more 10 than years.  I think that’s very troubling when you think about what this country is supposed to stand for.”

Rank, a Professor of Social Welfare at the Brown School at Washington University, thinks economic inequality can be addressed through public policy.  He points out the U.S. is one of the only developed countries which largely finances education through local property tax dollars which leads to a wide disparity among rich and poor school districts.  He contends the country could alleviate much of that problem by distributing education money through the federal government.