At a time when conservative policies seem designed to limit access to education, a new study has come out that shows a large decline in the life expectancy of white people who have less than a high school diploma. This appears to be yet another self-defeating stance by conservatives who are arguably aiding and abetting the death of their own constituency.
As cited in the New York Times, the lead investigator of the study, S. Jay Olshansky, says that white women without a high school diploma lost five years off their life expectancy between 1990 and 2008. On average, they can expect to live until age 73.5, compared to age 83.9 for white female college graduates. White men without a high school diploma lost three years, but they were already behind females. They can expect to live to age 67.5 whereas white male college graduates live a whopping 13 years longer, until age 80.4.
The life expectancy of other races continues to climb, regardless of educational level. Hispanics live longer than whites, across the board. Life expectancy for blacks has risen, but remains below that of whites–except for those without a high school diploma. Theirs is just about even with that of white women and men with the same level of education.
While the causes for this dramatic change are unknown, the link between education and life expectancy are clear. The speculation about contributing factors includes increased rates of smoking, more prescription drug abuse, and a lack of health insurance. But what’s also clear is that the populations of conservative states are less educated than liberal ones, as well as less diverse.
Conservative policies tend to discourage education, for instance; denying funding for early childhood education, demanding rigorous and inflexible testing as the ultimate test of achievement, undermining public schools through decreased funding and the use of vouchers, forcing college tuition to rise through slashing state funding, and shrinking the dollar amount of Pell Grants. The extent to which these factors contribute to the high school dropout rate and/or limit access to higher education is the same degree to which conservatives are sabotaging themselves.
The reason why they would do so can be found in statistics from the 2008 Presidential election. According to a Washington Post/ABC News poll, white people without a college degree supported John McCain by a margin of 17 percentage points. Those with a college degree favored Obama by 9 percentage points. Nevertheless, the long view of thoughtful persons would see that older white people among the Republican voter base–in other words, the working class in red states–are becoming an endangered species.