College Education Leads to Longer Life, Study Finds

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If more Americans were college educated, hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved every year in the United States, according to new research. The study found that 554,525 US deaths in 2010 could have been prevented if those people had obtained a bachelor’s degree.

Published on July 8, 2015 in the online, peer-reviewed journal PLOS ONE, the study determined that 145,243 deaths in 2010 could be attributed to people not finishing high school, which is equivalent to the number of lives that could be saved by people giving up smoking. A further 110,068 deaths could have been averted if people who had some college but had not completed their degree requirements had instead gone on to get a bachelor’s degree.

The connection between lower education levels and dying younger is partly due to people with more education being better off financially, according to study co-author Virginia Chang, Associate Professor of Population Health at New York University School of Medicine. “People with more education have higher income and more money,” Chang stated. “They can afford to eat better, a gym membership or a personal trainer, support to quit smoking.” In addition to higher potential earnings, college graduates may also possess “more knowledge about health, more access to get that knowledge, more of a sense of agency, more self-efficacy, better peer connections.”

The researchers used a sample of more than one million people drawn from the National Health Interview Surveys of 1986 to 2004, plus prospective mortality rates derived from the National Death Index and data from the Social Security Administration, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and the 2010 American Community Survey.

Also examining education disparities amongst people born in 1925, 1935, and 1945, the researchers found that the association between lower education levels and mortality is increasing. Co-author Patrick Krueger, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado at Denver, warned “the mortality attributable to low education will continue to increase in the future.”

Sources:

Electa Draper, “University of Colorado Study Links Education to Lower Mortality Rates,” denverpost.com, Jul. 8, 2015

Anya Kamenetz, “How More Education Could Save a Half-Million American Lives,” npr.org, July 8, 2015

Patrick M. Krueger et al., “Mortality Attributable to Low Levels of Education in the United States,” plosone.org, Jul. 8, 2015

New York University, “Study Estimates Number of Deaths Attributed to Low Levels of Education,” eurekalert.org, Jul. 8, 2015

Rachael Rettner, “Staying in School Would Help People Live Longer, Study Suggests,” livescience.com, Jul. 8, 2015