Southern Sin

IMG_0935I am immersed in the land of the Delta Blues, soaking up the stale fried grease smells (they really do deep fry everything—peanuts, pies, pickles, pork rind), humidity, wafts of tobacco smoke, waves of whisky breath, and the amazing deep Southern drawls. Here in Tupelo and Oxford Mississippi I have been contemplating Southern Sin in all its permutations. On the plane ride from Seattle I read through the newest edition of Creative Nonfiction’s special edition, Southern Sin. Not surprisingly, many of the essays deal with sex. It probably isn’t a surprise that the Bible Belt of Mississippi has the highest per capita number of Christian churches (mostly Southern Baptist), and also has the highest per capita number of sexually transmitted infections of any state in the U.S. It is no surprise that Mississippi is the fattest state. It did surprise me that Mississippi has our country’s highest casino market, concentrated along the Mississippi River. Life expectancies are the worst in Mississippi. But something that has really struck me while here is how worn out and unhealthy the poorer white women look. Many of these women I’ve encountered have been working in gas stations or in diner-type places—low-wage service jobs—so I assume they do not have much education. For me they are now the ‘face’ to the dry statistics showing the stark decline in life expectancy for white Southern women without a high school education. Recent studies show that for this group of women life expectancy has fallen by five years since 1990. Nationally, life expectancy for white women without a high school education was 73.5 years, vs. a life expectancy of 83.9 years for white women with a college degree. Researchers are mostly perplexed by the life expectancy declines for disadvantaged white women, but guess that higher stress levels, smoking, obesity, and misuse of alcohol and prescription pain medications are contributors.

Sources:

Life Expectancy Shrinks for Least-educated Whites in U.S., NYT, Sept 20, 2012/ Sabrina Tavernise.

One Nation, Seven Sins. Las Vegas Sun, March 26, 2009/Abigail Goldman.

 

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