Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Life Expectancy Rises For The Educated; The Less-educated Reap No Benefit

Date:
March 12, 2008
Source:
Harvard Medical School
Summary:
While life expectancy has increased significantly for educated people over the last twenty years, it has plateaued for less educated people. In other words, those whose education level does not exceed high school have not been sharing the benefits of prolonged lifespan. This is the case for both African Americans and Caucasians. Deaths related to tobacco use account for at least one-fifth of the growth in mortality differences by education that create this life expectancy gap.

It's no secret that over the last few decades, life expectancy in the United States has been rising. However, recent data shows that not everyone has benefited from this encouraging trend. New findings from Harvard Medical School and Harvard University demonstrate that individuals with 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," says David Cutler, dean for social sciences at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University, and study co-author. "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."

The research, which was conducted by Cutler and Ellen Meara, assistant professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, appears in the March/April edition of the journal Health Affairs.

Over the years, much attention has been paid to mortality rates based on socio-economic status, but less attention has been paid to recent trends in life expectancy, mortality, and education level. To understand recent mortality trends, Meara and Cutler combined death certificate data with census population estimates and data from the National Longitudinal Mortality Study. Restricting analyses to whites and non-Hispanic blacks, the team created two separate data sets, one covering 1981-1988, and the other 1990-2000.

In both data sets, life expectancy rose for individuals who had more than 12 years of education. For those with 12 years or less, it plateaued.

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.

In addition, when the data was broken down by gender, the researchers 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," says Meara.

The researchers found that much of the mortality gap can be attributed to smoking related illnesses. Just two diseases usually caused by smoking, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (which comprises chronic bronchitis and emphysema), account for 20 percent of growing mortality differences in the 1990s. Many other illnesses like heart disease and other types of cancer, also count smoking as contributing factors. The importance of smoking 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. (Other 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," says Cutler. "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."

Journal reference: Ellen Meara, Seth Richards, and David Cutler. "The Gap Gets Bigger: Changes in Mortality and Life Expectancy, by Education, 1981-2000." Health Affairs, March/April 2008, Volume 27, Number 2

This research was funded by the National Institute on Aging and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Harvard Medical School. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Harvard Medical School. "Life Expectancy Rises For The Educated; The Less-educated Reap No Benefit." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 March 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080311081149.htm>.
Harvard Medical School. (2008, March 12). Life Expectancy Rises For The Educated; The Less-educated Reap No Benefit. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080311081149.htm
Harvard Medical School. "Life Expectancy Rises For The Educated; The Less-educated Reap No Benefit." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080311081149.htm (accessed August 21, 2014).

Share This




More Health & Medicine News

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Drug Used To Treat 'Ebola's Cousin' Shows Promise

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) An experimental drug used to treat Marburg virus in rhesus monkeys could give new insight into a similar treatment for Ebola. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Cadavers, a Teen, and a Medical School Dream

Cadavers, a Teen, and a Medical School Dream

AP (Aug. 21, 2014) Contains graphic content. He's only 17. But Johntrell Bowles has wanted to be a doctor from a young age, despite the odds against him. He was recently the youngest participant in a cadaver program at the Indiana University NW medical school. (Aug. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
American Ebola Patients Released: What Cured Them?

American Ebola Patients Released: What Cured Them?

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) It's unclear whether the American Ebola patients' recoveries can be attributed to an experimental drug or early detection and good medical care. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Lost Brain Cells To Blame For Sleep Problems Among Seniors

Newsy (Aug. 21, 2014) According to a new study, elderly people might have trouble sleeping because of the loss of a certain group of neurons in the brain. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins