Racial Disparities in the Health Benefits of Educational Attainment

A Study of Inflammatory Trajectories Among African American and White Adults
A nurse checks the blood pressure of a patient.

In examining the effects of educational attainment on age-related inflammatory physiology across races, African Americans had larger increases in fibrinogen, a key marker of systemic inflammation, over time than whites.

The Issue: Recent perspectives suggest that health benefits of educational attainment may be less pronounced for African Americans. This study examines the race differences of the effects of educational attainment on age-related inflammatory physiology between early and middle adulthood. Analysis was focused on age-related changes in fibrinogen across racial groups, and parallel analysis for C-reactive protein and interleukin-6 determined at year 20.

Key Findings:

  • African Americans had larger increases in fibrinogen over time than whites.
  • For whites, each additional year of education was associated with an approximately 7mg/dl smaller increase in fibrinogen over a 15-year period.
  • A total of 37 percent of this difference was explained after accounting for covariates, including early life adversity, health and health behaviors at baseline, employment and financial measures at baseline and follow-up; and psychosocial stresses in adulthood.

Conclusion: Overall, the effects of education attainment on inflammation levels were stronger for whites rather than African Americans participating in the study. Further research should focus on this health disparity.

About the Study: A total of 1,192 African American and 1,487 whites participated in year 5 and year 20 of an ongoing longitudinal study, Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA).