The blogs vs. Case-Deaton
Anne Case and Angus Deaton have a new paper on white mortality rates. This one is getting attacked a lot more than the 2015 one, though the findings and methods are basically the same -- increased death rates for U.S. whites, especially for the uneducated. Andrew Gelman is still on the case (we'll get to his critique later), but a number of other pundits have now joined in. Thanks in part to these critiques, it's rapidly becoming conventional-wisdom in some circles that the Case-Deaton result is bunk - one person even called the paper a "bogus report" and criticized me for "falling for" it.
But most of the critics have overstated their case pretty severely here. The Case-Deaton result is not bunk - it's a real and striking finding.First, let's talk about the most popular critique - Malcolm Harris' post in the Pacific Standard. Josh Zumbrun of the Wall St. Journal had a good counter-takedown of this one on Twitter.
Harris notes that the Case-Deaton paper hasn't gone through peer review, but fails to note that the 2015 paper, which said basically the same thing, did go through peer review.
Harris also takes issue with the labeling of non-college-graduates as "working class", but this is a journalistic convention - Case and Deaton themselves use the term "working class" twice in their paper, but only when talking about possible economic explanations for the mortality increase. At no point do they equate "working class" with an educational category; that is entirely something that writers and journalists (including myself) do.
And personally speaking, who really constitutes the "working class" seems like one of those internecine Marxist debates best left in the 1970s. When I use the term to mean "people without a college degree", I specify that that's what I'm talking about.But Harris' central critique is that, according to him, Case and Deaton have ignored selection effects. Obviously, if more people graduate college, there's a composition effect on the ones who still don't graduate. If mortality goes down by education level, this composition effect (which Harris calls "lagged selection bias") will raise non-college mortality even if mortality rates aren't changing at all. There's a 2015 paper by John Bound et al. (which Case & Deaton cite) showing that once these selection effects are taken into account, there's "little evidence that survival probabilities declined dramatically" for the lowest education quartile. Harris heavily cites Arline Geronimus, one of Bound's co-authors, who makes a number of disparaging comments about Case & Deaton's papers.
Selection effects are very real (and John Bound is one of the best empirical economists out there). Attrition from the non-college group is important. But as Zumbrun points out, once you lump all white Americans together - which totally eliminates the education selection effect - the mortality increase remains. Just look at this graph from the 2015 paper:
HT: today's FT Alphaville Further Reading post which leads off with a link on trading donkeys in China should you be jonesing for some action and can't get off on the usual fixes.
As I noted about a critic of the first Case-Deaton paper:
Since they are dealing with a paper co-written by Angus Deaton, this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, I'm assuming SMCISS has thought long and hard about this.
Or they're just shooting for a bit of publicity by taking on the biggest name they could think of, people do that in the social sciences....
That's from December 2015's "Taking on the Nobel Prize Winner: An Update On That "Middle Class White Guys Are Dying" Report".