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Learn More, Live Longer, and Prosper!

by Justin Marquis Ph.D.

It seems that there is a reason that the motto of the uber-intelligent Vulcan race is "Live long and prosper." It is well-established that education yields economic benefits, makes you a well-rounded and intellectually curious individual, and creates a more egalitarian society. Did you know that higher education will also make you live longer? According to the annual CDC report, Health, United States, 2011, which examines trends in health statistics, there is a link between higher education and living longer. What is even more impressive is that these benefits apply not only to the educated individual, but also to their offspring. Here are some of the highlights of the report and some of the reasons why more education equates to longer life.

The Findings
Here are the key findings from the report.

  • Men age 25 or older with a college diploma can expect to live 9.3 years longer than their same age counterparts with only  a high school education
  • The difference for women age 25 or older is 8.6 years
  • Women age 25 or older without a BA were more likely to be obese (no difference was found for men)
  • The less-educated an individual is the more likely they are to smoke (33% with no BA, 24% with some college, and 9% with a BA or higher)
  • Those with at least some college education are less likely to delay receiving medical treatment because of an injury or illness (20.6% no diploma to 13.4% with some college)
  • More educated individuals are twice as likely to obtain prescription medication when needed
  • Those with at least some college education are less likely to miss necessary dental care because of cost (14.45 to 26.3%)
  • Those with a BA are less likely to give birth to low birthweight babies (6.9%) than those without (8.0%)
  • More educated mothers age 22-44 are more likely to breast feed for at least three months (74.6% to 43.2% with only a high school diploma)
  • Those with at least some college education are less likely to suffer from heart disease than those with no high school diploma (12.2% to 14.5%)
  • Those with at least some college education are less likely to suffer from a stroke than those with no high school diploma (2.5% to 4.2%)
  • Those with some college education are more likely to exercise (25%) compared to those with no high school diploma (7.7%) or those with a diploma but no college (12.7%)
  • Children whose parents have a BA or higher are less likely to be obese (boys 11.4%, girls 7.1%) than those of parents who do not (boys 24%, girls 22.3%)
    (All statistics from CDC.gov)

Why Do the Educated Live Longer?
While these statistics are interesting and revealing, the report does not offer any hypothesis for why the educated live longer.  My take on the issue is that there are several reasons that those with at least some college education are more likely to be healthier and live a longer life. The first reason is that the income gap between high school dropouts and college graduates is immense. Citing U.S. Census Bureau data, Robert Longley writes, "workers 18 and over sporting bachelor’s degrees earn an average of $51,206 a year, while those with a high school diploma earn $27,915. Further, workers with an advanced degree make an average of $74,602, and those without a high school diploma average $18,734 (Longley).  Those who earn more are likely to be those with better jobs, better health insurance, better access to physicians, and a greater ability to pay for treatments and prescriptions.

Secondly, looking at smoking and breastfeeding statistics from the CDC report, it is likely that there is a fairly obvious gap in the access to health information between those with more education and those with less. This could be attributable to a discrepancy in broadband Internet access, allowing more informed individuals to find reliable health information, schedule medical appointments, etc. Only 65% of those who earn less than $30,000 per year (many of those with only a high school diploma, for example) use the Internet compared to the 95+% of those who earn more than $50,000 annually (Marquis, 5 June, 2012). While the Internet may not be the only place to find health-related information, it provides a quick and easy source for finding out things which can contribute to a longer, healthier life.

Finally, the data from the CDC report, while not addressing the issue explicitly, could be interpreted as indicating that there is a vocational risk associated with being less-educated that could contribute to the overall difference in life expectancy. Looking at the deaths per 100,000 workers in various professions reveals that those in white collar jobs are significantly less likely to be killed on the job than those in manual or industrial positions. For example in jobs like forestry, mining, construction, and transportation, the average is between 9 and 27 deaths annually per 100,000 workers. In positions such as finance, insurance, and other professional fields, the rate is between .5 and 1 per 100,000 (CDC, Occupational fatal injuries and rates, by industry, sex, age, race, and Hispanic origin). While this is somewhat of a generalization, the positions with lower mortality rates are generally those which require more education.

Harnessing the Health Benefits of Education
While this data may seem disheartening, there is an easy fix for increasing the life expectancy for those who do not have a college degree or who may not have thought it was important – go to school. I am not being flippant here. I am a firm believer that everyone should have an opportunity to attend some sort of higher education institution regardless of their familial background, economic condition, race, gender, or any other factor that might get in the way. We are far beyond the point at which free universal higher education should have become a reality in this country. Not only are there economic and health benefits for individuals, but there is a potential for expanded educational opportunities to benefit society as a whole.

If you are on the fence about starting a higher education program, or have been thinking about going back to school, the fact that you are likely to live a longer and healthier life because of your education should make the decision easy.

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