Posted on January 27, 2023

Rise in Middle-Aged White ‘Deaths of Despair’ May Be Fueled by Loss of Religion, New Research Paper Argues

Steve Goldstein, Market Watch, January 16, 2023

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 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.

States that experienced larger declines in religious participation in the last 15 years of the 20th century saw larger increases in deaths of despair.

The researchers looked at the repeal of blue laws in particular. Blue laws limited commerce, typically on Sunday mornings. {snip}

The repeal of blue laws had a 5- to 10-percentage-point impact on weekly attendance of religious services, and increased the rate of deaths of despair by 2 deaths per 100,000 people, they found — accounting for a “reasonably large share of the initial rise in the deaths of despair.”