NEW YORK – Researchers have found a link between an individual’s level of education and their life expectancy. The latest research suggests that a lack of education may be as damaging to one’s life span as being a smoking, based on the number of deaths that can be linked to different levels of education.
Virginia Chang, a professor of population health at New York University School of Medicine led the research that was published in the journal PLOS ONE Education. The study used data from more than a million people between 1986 and 2006 and estimated the number of deaths that could be attributed to low levels of education.
Chang explains, “In public health policy, we often focus on changing health behaviors such as diet, smoking, and drinking,” but says that education “is a more fundamental, upstream driver of health behaviors and disparities,” and should be incorporated into health policy.
The results of the study show that the 2010 population could have been higher by 145,000 if adults who did not finish high school had earned their degree or received a GED. There were more than 110,000 additional deaths that could have been prevented if those who attended college but didn’t graduate had completed the work for their bachelor’s degree.
Recent data indicates that more than 10% of American adults ages 25 to 34 lack a high school diploma, while more than 25% don’t have a bachelor’s degree, even if they have some college experience.
There is an initiative called Healthy People 2020, which has set goals for the percentage of Americans to complete high school by the year 2020. If these goals are met, researchers say there will be a significant increase in the life expectancy of Americans.
The overall life expectancy of Americans is increasing, but there is a meaningful discrepancy between the life spans of those with high levels of education and those who don’t. Chang concludes, “The bottom line is paying attention to education has the potential to reduce substantively mortality.”