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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  1. navigio 6 years ago6 years ago

    I think the nyt article gives some pretty good explanations for this drop: - first off, the non-hs-diploma female white group has dropped from 22% of the population to 12% of the population in 1990, so might not be surprising to find only the most disadvantaged of this group remaining there. If it were possible to separate out these people from the original 22% group, we might see a gap even there. - Overdoses from prescription drugs … Read More

    I think the nyt article gives some pretty good explanations for this drop:
    – first off, the non-hs-diploma female white group has dropped from 22% of the population to 12% of the population in 1990, so might not be surprising to find only the most disadvantaged of this group remaining there. If it were possible to separate out these people from the original 22% group, we might see a gap even there.
    – Overdoses from prescription drugs have spiked since 1990, disproportionately affecting whites, particularly women.
    – smoking was a big part of declines in life expectancy for less educated women. Smoking rates have increased among women without a high school diploma, both white and black
    – The share of working-age adults with less than a high school diploma who did not have health insurance rose to 43 percent in 2006, up from 35 percent in 1993, according to Mr. Jemal at the American Cancer Society. Just 10 percent of those with a college degree were uninsured last year, the Census Bureau reported.
    And besides that, socioeconomic status disparities are getting wider and wider. It has been shown that education dollars go much further for affluents than for non. A similar phenomenon probably impacts life expectancy in varying ways as this income polarization continues.