Higher Education = Longer Life?

educationA recent study should be welcome news for people writing college tuition checks this month for the fall semester. Those with a higher level of education tend to live a longer life. Conversely, those who do not finish high school or earn a GED are more likely to die at a younger age.

In general, this should be common sense. Those who did not finish high school are probably not as likely as someone who went to college to earn as much, have a positive social and psychological wellbeing, or engage in healthier behaviors (dietary and physical).

The research team took their conclusions a step further, however, in their findings that were published in the journal PLoS One this week. They argue that acquiring less education overall can be hazardous to people on a long-term basis. They also suggest that deaths could be prevented if people got more education.

The group of researchers from New York University, the University of Colorado and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined data gathered in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health Interview Survey. The information featured responses on a variety of health and socio-economic information from over a million people in the U.S. between the years 1986 and 2006.

The researchers focused on data gathered from people born in the years 1925, 1935, and 1945. They then looked to determine how their higher education levels affected their life, and whether it was longer or shorter, over time. In simple terms, they found that the more schooling someone has, the lower their risk of death was during the study period. Those with high school diplomas have a slightly lower death rate than those without. Likewise, those with college degrees have a decrease over those without.

Looking at the population at large, they concluded that more than 145,000 deaths could have been prevented in 2010 if adults who were high school dropouts had gone on to earn a GED or high school degree. They also estimated that more than 110,000 deaths could have been prevented in 2010 if those with some college credits had completed their bachelor’s degree.

The results imply that implementing policies to help people attain more education could substantially lead to a longer life span  in the U.S. population, according to Patrick Krueger, a Department of Health & Behavioral Sciences assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver. He expressed the team’s belief that, without some policy change, the impact of lower education levels on mortality will continue to increase in the future and create a greater disparity.

Study author Virginia Chang, who is an associate professor at New York University’s School of Medicine and its School of Culture, Education and Human Development and College of Global Public Health noted that most public health policy focuses on behaviors like diet, alcohol consumption and smoking. She noted, based on the study, education, as a fundamental driver of eventual health behaviors and disparities, should also be an ongoing element of U.S. health policy.

While those who earn more typically have better diets, and those with college degrees earn more than high school dropouts, it is important to realize that this study merely showed a correlation between amount of schooling and death rates. It did not prove the lack of a higher education really could cause more deaths, or that those college tuition check could help ensure a longer life.

Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss

CBS News: Less education may mean shorter lifespan
Daily Times Gazette: College degree holders tend to have higher life expectancy rate, study reveals
Medical Daily: Getting A Higher Education May Lengthen Your Life — Just Look At The Numbers

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