Washington, Mar 12 : The more educated you are, the longer you will live - at least according to a new study by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Harvard University.
The study, conducted by David Cutler, dean for social sciences at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University and Ellen Meara, assistant professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, has cited that people having more than 12 years of education have significantly longer life expectancy than those who never went beyond high school.
"We like to think that as we as a country get healthier, everyone benefits. Here we've found that you can have a rising tide that only lifts half the boats-and the ones lifted are the ones doing better to begin with," said Cutler.
Researchers have long been concentrating on mortality rates based on socio-economic status, but not much attention has been paid to recent trends in life expectancy, mortality, and education level.
But, in order to understand recent mortality trends, Meara and Cutler combined death certificate data with census population estimates and data from the National Longitudinal Mortality Study. They focused their analyses to whites and non-Hispanic blacks, and created two separate data sets, one covering 1981-1988, and the other 1990-2000.
It was found that in both data sets, life expectancy rose for individuals who had more than 12 years of education but for those with 12 years or less, it reached a stable level with no change.
For example, comparing the 1980s to the 1990s, better educated individuals experienced nearly a year and a half of increased life expectancy, while the less educated experienced only half a year. For 1990-2000, life expectancy rose an additional 1.6 years for better educated, while remaining fixed for the less educated.
Besides breaking down the data by gender, it was found that women fared worse than men. Less educated women, regardless of race, experienced a slight decline in life expectancy at age 25. Overall in the groups studied, as of 2000, better educated at age 25 could expect to live to age 82; for less educated, 75.
"Although improvements in health often occur more rapidly within some groups than others, it is surprising that life expectancy remained so flat for the less educated during periods when others enjoyed dramatic gains in longevity," said Meara.
It was found that much of the mortality gap was due to smoking related illnesses, which is not surprising, since other data has shown that the less educated have not given up smoking to the same extent that those with more education have. ther causes of death examined were diseases of the heart, non-lung cancers, stroke, and unintentional injuries.
"There's a bit of complacency in the fact that year after year lifespan goes up. Our data shows us that we need to start thinking about doing much more for the groups at the bottom if we don't want to see these gaps grow," said Cutler.
The study appears in the latest edition of the journal Health Affairs.