New research dramatically shows the value of an education: The more you have, the longer you are likely to live.
Research has shown that people without a high school diploma have higher mortality rates than those who graduate from high school. That was particularly the case for African Americans, whose life expectancy has lagged far behind both whites and Hispanics.
But a compelling new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago, reported in the New York Times, shows that the life expectancy of whites without a high school diploma has plummeted by four years between 1990 and 2008. The decrease in life expectancy was greatest among women: an extraordinary five years.
As the Times article noted:
The latest estimate shows life expectancy for white women without a high school diploma was 73.5 years, compared with 83.9 years for white women with a college degree or more. For white men, the gap was even bigger: 67.5 years for the least educated white men compared with 80.4 for those with a college degree or better.
The study was originally published in Health Affairs. The study’s authors concluded that the key to raising life expectancy is better education outcomes.
The message for policy makers is clear: 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.
The research group, headed by public health professor S. Jay Olshansky, offered no clear explanation for the startling drop in life expectancy. The Times article, in fact, said that researchers were “baffled” by the magnitude of the decline. Some possible explanations include: less access to health care; high school dropouts are more likely than in previous generations to engage in riskier behavior such as non-prescription drug use; and smoking among women without a high school diploma has continued to rise.
In the one sliver of good news in the study, the life expectancy of both African Americans and Hispanics without a high school diploma has continued to rise during the period of the study.
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