Does Education Equal a Longer Life?

Life expectancy higher for the highly educated

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Go to school, get educated and as a result, get a good job. This is a life pattern taught to many growing up in the United States. But new research is showing that this pattern may have an unintended benefit - a longer life.

A new study examined the differences in life expectancy among different socioeconomic groups in the US and found that the least educated Americans are living shorter lives.

"Diet and exercise play a big role in longevity and health."

Researchers, led by S. Jay Olshansky, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, drew on data from several sources for this study, including the 2008 Multiple Cause of Death public use data file, the National Center for Health Statistics population counts and the 2008 American Community Survey (which sampled about 1 percent of US households).

This data was analyzed for factors like education level, age, sex and race.

According to the authors, results showed that “in 2008, US adult men and women with fewer than twelve years of education had life expectancies not much better than those of all adults in the 1950s and 1960s.”

"It's as if Americans with the least education are living in a time warp," said Dr. Olshansky.

Olshansky and team found that white females with the highest level of education (16 or more years of education) lived 10.4 years longer than white females with the lowest level of education (fewer than 12 years of education).

Similar trends were seen in other groups, with the most educated white males living 12.9 years longer, the most educated black females living 6.5 years longer and the most educated black males living 9.7 years longer than their least educated counterparts.

These differences were found to be even more marked when race came into play.

For example, white males with the most education were seen to live 14.2 years longer than black men with the least education, and the highest educated white women lived 10.3 years longer than the least educated black women.

According to the authors, these differences may be connected to the income that often goes along with education.

“The message for policy makers is clear;” concluded the authors, “implement educational enhancements at young, middle and older ages for people of all races, to reduce the large gap in health and longevity that persists today.”

In an interview with dailyRx News, Jim Crowell, fitness expert and lead trainer at Integrated Fitness in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, highlighted the fact that despite these statistics, individuals can play an active role in their own health and longevity, education levels aside.

“Through a tremendous amount of practical research I believe strongly that a healthy lifestyle from both a nutritional and physical perspective has a profound correlation to a longer life expectancy,” Crowell told dailyRx News.

“While I certainly understand that there are a myriad of factors which cause disease, I believe that there is tangible enough evidence that supports maintaining a healthy lifestyle will not only increase your life expectancy, but it will also enhance the life that you are able to lead on a daily basis," said Crowell.

Dr. Olanksy’s study was published in the journal Health Affairs in August 2012. The research was funded by The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
October 15, 2012
Last Updated:
October 16, 2012