The Economic Value of Improving the Health of Disadvantaged Americans

The economic value of bringing the health status and longevity of all American adults up to the level of those with a college education is estimated at more than a trillion dollars a year.

It is better for your health to be well educated. Adults age 25 to 50 years old who have a college degree live, on average, five years longer than those with less than a high school education. At every age college-educated adults report being in very good or excellent health (75%), compared to those with less than a high school education (40%).

To inform its Commission to Build a Healthier America, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2007 commissioned an analysis of the cost of higher mortality rates and poorer health status associated with lower educational attainment.

Assuming that a year lived in optimum health is valued at $100,000, if all groups with less than a college degree were brought up to the same mortality rates as those with a college degree, the gain was valued at $493 billion. Bringing the health status of the less educated up to those with a bachelor’s degree would create a benefit of $527 billion. Together the benefits of decreasing health disparities associated with educational disparities were valued at $1.02 trillion per year.

"By expressing the health disparities in monetized form, the magnitude of the disparities can be more easily compared with other policy priorities," the researchers write.