Fewer Years of Education Significantly Reduces Life Expectancy: Recommended Reading

Aug 9, 2012, 2:17 PM

Despite advances in health care and increases in life expectancy overall, Americans with less than a high school education have life expectancies similar to adults in the 1950s and 1960s, according to a new study in Health Affairs.

“The most highly educated white men live about 14 years longer than the least educated black men,” says S. Jay Olshansky, professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health and lead author of the study. “The least educated black women live about 10 years less than the most educated white women.” Olshanksy’s research was funded by The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society.

One key finding, according to Olshansky, is that life expectancy for white women with less than 12 years of education has actually declined since 1990, dropping from a life expectancy of 78 to 73 years. Black women with less than 12 years of education can expect to live to age 74, up from age 73 two decades ago.

The researchers speculate that the least educated black women are experiencing high levels of obesity, which is impacting their longevity, and that the least educated white women may be more likely to adopt dangerous health behaviors including smoking and alcohol and drug use.

>>Bonus Link: Listen to a podcast and read a recent interview with Education Secretary Arne Duncan on the critical connection between health and education.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.