Lacking a Bachelor's Degree Increases Death Risk

A college class a day keeps the doctor away.

A college class a day keeps the doctor away.

In a recent study, researchers posited that higher education gives individuals greater odds of having higher earnings and healthier lifestyles—in other words, better survival.

They also suggested that efforts to boost education could help reduce adult mortality, if the association between education and death is causal.

Their data was derived from the National Health Interview Study from 1986 to 2004 in conjunction with prospective mortality through 2006. The investigators also used educational disparities during 1925, 1935, and 1945 to examine adults aged 25 to 85 years in 2010.

They considered 3 scenarios: a student who did not have a high school degree, a student who had some college experience but not a bachelor’s degree, and a student who had any level of education below a bachelor’s degree. The outcomes included all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease mortality, and cancer mortality.

If adults in 2010 had the same educational disparities in mortality as the 1945 cohort, then 145,243 deaths can be attributed to not having a high school degree, the researchers determined. That finding is comparable to the number of deaths that could have been prevented if current smokers were former smokers.

Additionally, 110,068 deaths can be linked to having some college education but no college degree, and 554,525 deaths can be linked to having anything below a bachelor’s degree.

Men with no high school degree have a 23% greater risk of death, compared with their male counterparts with a high school degree or GED in 1925. Meanwhile, men with some college education have a 6% lower risk of death, those with bachelor’s degrees have a 25% lower risk, and men with post-baccalaureate education have a 33% lower risk, the researchers found.

In addition to higher income, education may promote better cognitive development, greater adherence to medicine, and better social status and psychological wellbeing.

“Our results suggest that policies and interventions that improve educational attainment could substantially improve survival in the US population, especially given widening educational disparities,” said study co-author Patrick Krueger, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Health & Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado, in a press release.

Efforts to help students graduate from high school and motivate those enrolled in college to finish their degree could be effective policy targets, the researchers suggested. They noted that more than

10% of US adults aged 25 to 34 years have less than a high school degree or GED, and 28.5% have some college education but not a bachelor’s degree.

“…There remains much room for improvement with regard to US educational attainment,” the researchers stated. “…The magnitude of our estimates confirms the importance of considering education policy as a key element of US health policy, and a major concern for current and future physicians.”