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Want to Live Longer? Go to College

A new study has found that education is the best predictor for a longer life.

Researchers note that life expectancy in the United States has been in decline for the first time in decades, with a number of causes identified as contributing factors, including inaccessible health care, rising drug addiction and rates of mental health disorders, and socio-economic factors.

This led researchers at the Yale School of Medicine and University of Alabama-Birmingham to look at the two variables most often linked to life expectancy — race and education — to determine which is more important.

They did this by analyzing data on 5,114 black and white individuals in four U.S. cities, who were recruited 30 years ago when they were in their early 20s for the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study.

Among the 5,114 people followed in the study, 395 died while they were in their 50s.

“These deaths are occurring in working-age people, often with children, before the age of 60,” said Yale’s Brita Roy, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology and corresponding author of the paper.

The rates of death among individuals in this group clearly show racial differences, with approximately 9 percent of blacks dying at an early age compared to 6 percent of whites, the researchers noted.

There were also differences in causes of death by race. For instance, black men were significantly more likely to die by homicide and white men from AIDS. The most common causes of death across all groups over time were cardiovascular disease and cancer.

But there were also notable differences in rates of death by education level. Approximately 13 percent of participants with a high school degree or less education died compared with only approximately 5 percent of college graduates.

And when researchers looked at race and education at the same time, differences related to race all but disappeared: 13.5 percent of black subjects and 13.2 percent of white subjects with a high school degree or less died during the course of the study. By contrast, 5.9 percent of black subjects and 4.3 percent of whites with college degrees had died, the study discovered.

To help account for differences in age-related mortality, the researchers used a measure called Years of Potential Life Lost (YPLL), calculated as projected life expectancy minus actual age at death.

This measure not only captures numbers of deaths, but also how untimely they were, according to the researchers. For example, someone who dies at age 25 from homicide accrues more YPLL than someone who dies at age 50 from cardiovascular disease. It would take two deaths at age 50 to equal the YPLL from a single death at age 25, researchers explained.

Even after accounting for the effects of other variables such as income, level of education was still the best predictor of YPLL. Each educational step obtained led to 1.37 fewer years of lost life expectancy, the study showed.

“These findings are powerful,” Roy said. “They suggest that improving equity in access to and quality of education is something tangible that can help reverse this troubling trend in reduction of life expectancy among middle-aged adults.”

The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Source: Yale University

Want to Live Longer? Go to College

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2020). Want to Live Longer? Go to College. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 22 Feb 2020 (Originally: 23 Feb 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 22 Feb 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.