Want to live a long, healthy life? Stay in school. According to a recent study from the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society, there is a definite correlation between longevity and the number of years of education. Previous studies have given a strong indication that education can be a factor in life span, but this new report reinforces and updates these findings, along with some causes for concern.
"The lifelong relationships of education and its correlates with health and longevity are striking," the experts state. "Education exerts its direct beneficial effects on health through the adoption of healthier lifestyles, better ability to cope with stress, and more effective management of chronic diseases. However, the indirect effects of education through access to more privileged social position, better-paying jobs, and higher income are also profound."
Okay, that’s great news for people who have had the benefit of higher education, but what those other Americans? Shouldn’t recent innovations in health care, and the flood of information about preventative medicine and healthy lifestyles translate into long lives for all? Studies show that U.S. educational achievement levels have fallen behind other nations, and that translates to trouble. According to researchers, as of 2008, men and women with less than twelve years of education had life expectancies approximating those of all adults in the 1950s and 1960s.
And when the researchers started to examine the correlation between educational achievement and race, they found the disparity was even greater. Studies within racial and ethnic groups revealed a pronounced longevity benefit when comparing people with 16 or more years of schooling verses with those with less than 12 years. For instance, among women, the differences in life expectancy at birth were 10.4 years among whites, 6.5 years among blacks, and 2.9 years for Hispanics. As for males, among whites, the gap was 12.9, contrasted with 9.7 for blacks and 5.5 for Hispanics. However, it is important to put this information into perspective.
"The current life expectancy at birth for U.S. blacks with fewer than twelve years of education is equivalent to the life expectancy observed in the 1960s and 1970s for all people in the United States, but blacks' longevity has been improving with time," the article states, going on to say the reverse is true for whiles. "White males with fewer than twelve years of education currently have a life expectancy at birth equivalent to that of all men in the United States born in 1972, while white females with similar education have the life expectancy of all women in the country born in 1964...and the longevity of these white males and females is growing worse over time..and have led to at least two 'Americas,' if not multiple others, in terms of life expectancy, demarcated by level of education and racial-group membership."
Of course, there are always mitigating factors and a PhD is not a guarantee you’ll live to be a hundred. But the facts indicate that the connection between education and longevity are compelling, and the report recommends that policymakers "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.”
So here is a suggestion -- maybe a great way to reform our health care system is to include better access to educational opportunity. That could be a win-win for everyone.