Education Correlates With Longevity

It is known that greater educational achievement is associated with greater longevity, and this is one facet of a web of related correlations between various measures of intelligence, wealth, and health. To my eyes this probably all boils down to influences on the degree to which people look after the health basics over a lifetime: exercise, weight, and smoking are the most important factors under individual control. Maintaining a good, healthy lifestyle in this sense certainly doesn't require wealth, but it happens that wealthy communities and networks do better than their less wealthy counterparts. People tend to adopt the culture that surrounds them.

Educational attainment may be an important determinant of life expectancy. However, few studies have prospectively evaluated the relationship between educational attainment and life expectancy using adjustments for other social, behavioral, and biological factors. The data for this study comes from the Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke study that enrolled 30,239 black and white adults (≥45 years) between 2003 and 2007. Demographic and cardiovascular risk information was collected and participants were followed for health outcomes. Educational attainment was categorized as less than high school education, high school graduate, some college, or college graduate. Proportional hazards analysis was used to characterize survival by level of education.

Educational attainment and follow-up data were available on 29,657 (98%) of the participants. Over 6.3 years of follow-up, 3673 participants died. There was a monotonically increasing risk of death with lower levels of educational attainment. The same monotonic relationship held with adjustments for age, race, sex, cardiovascular risk factors, and health behaviors. The unadjusted hazard ratio for those without a high school education in comparison with college graduates was 2.89. Although adjustment for income, health behaviors, and cardiovascular risk factors attenuated the relationship, the same consistent pattern was observed after adjustment. The relationship between educational attainment and longevity was similar for black and white participants. The monotonic relationship between educational attainment and longevity was observed for all age groups, except for those aged 85 years or more.

Thus educational attainment is a significant predictor of longevity. Other factors including age, race, income, health behaviors, and cardiovascular risk factors only partially explain the relationship.


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