Rodríguez and team awarded major grant to review declining life expectancies


The latest statistics on U.S. life expectancy do not paint a contented picture of retirement.

New preliminary data in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that life expectancies for working-class Americans are declining. The reason?

A group of illness called \”Diseases of despair\”-drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide. Lack of economic opportunity and related factors are increasingly being identified as powerful allies to those diseases and also to stark declines in American life expectancies for the third straight year in a row.

Coinciding with reports by various media outlets on these new results, DPE Professor Javier Rodríguez and his research team in the University of Michigan happen to be awarded a significant grant in the National Institutes of Health to tackle this area.

The 5-year RO1 research grant provides a lot more than $2 million–with a portion going to CGU—for his or her project “Economic distress and growing educational disparities in life expectancy: Weathering, high effort coping, and despair.”

What does he aspire to accomplish with this particular research? What exactly are his team's objectives? Rodríguez, who co-directs the university's Inequality and Policy Research Center (that is initiating research this fall within the Department of Politics and Government) and teaches Inequality Transdisciplinary Research this fall, addressed these and other questions within the following interview.

For a scholar like yourself who tracks societal trends and human behavior, what does a grant of the size mean? Are you excited through the opportunities this grant will give you?

The academic aspiration of research is to inspire new lines of research; its human aspiration is to alleviate social injustices and enhance the overall wellbeing of people.

In this specific case, how big these studies grant allows us to pursue and get both aspirations having a critical problem in our times: A halt to universal gains in life expectancy across U.S. subpopulations, and a rise in educational or income inequality in life expectancy since 1990.

Am I excited about the opportunities ahead? Oh yeah-as a goat in a garden! But not only that. What's essential is the fact that we are producing this research-at least in part-here, at CGU.

How did your collaboration with the research team in the University of Michigan come about?

To bridge two usually disparate regions of research like politics and public health is a new and highly multidisciplinary enterprise. Thus, upon graduating from my PhD program at UCLA, I decided to shine and perfect my methods and theoretical approach, and pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan. Along with my two fabulous postdoctoral mentors-Professors Arline T. Geronimus and John Bound-and colleague Tim Waidmann in the Urban Institute, we now conform a research team that has produced several publications and research grants.

What may be the moral of the story? Students and their mentors do establish lasting, productive relationships that are critical for their professional, academic, and private development. It happened to me at two huge, scattered universities like UCLA and U. Michigan. Now consider you skill in a place like CGU, which is indeed a factory of networks!

Are you hoping that you will be able to shed light on a troubling facet of todays lifestyles that will result in some type of social justice response? There are plenty of people hurting available right now, right?

If there's nothing more humanly valuable than the time a person has to live her or his life, then there is no bigger social injustice than premature death. That is why health inequality is thought to become the most vicious of all inequalities.

Unfortunately, inside a drastically polarized political environment, it is quite often hard for Americans to see the operating mechanisms that distribute the production of illness and human suffering that ultimately decides who lives – and who dies for completely preventable reasons.

What are some of those \”operating mechanisms\”?

In america, socioeconomic inequality is health inequality. They are both persistent, big, and increasing factors. And both are preventable.

How big may be the problem? Let's look at white females and males (yes, \”white\”) from low-educational backgrounds. How big is this group? Well, more than 40 million people. And, what is happening for them? Their life span has either stagnated or decreased since 1990. That means that they're suffering \”excess\” mortality: Many of them shouldn't have left had their life expectancy continued its pre-1990 trend of improvement. As you can tell, this problem is crucial, and that we should move all resources to alleviate it-no matter what.

Now, keep in mind that excess mortality, in its many shapes and forms, is a concern that has been happening to African Americans and American Indians since the duration of colonialism.

By just how much? Inside a recently published paper we estimated that between 1970 and 2004 (just 35 many years of data) 20% of population growth among black Americans never happened due to early mortality. And what about American Indians? That's a question we are trying to answer at CGU with Professor Jean Schroedel and a superb team of PhD students (Aaron Berg, Rixin Wen, and Carlos Echeverría).

Taken together, the opportunity to bring to CGU a minimum of a bit of this research grant puts CGU around the radar inside a critical area: It reminds the world that we here are producing top-level research that matters.

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