(July 2013) Robert Hummer and Elaine Hernandez, co-authors of the PRB Bulletin, "The Effect of Educational Attainment on Adult Mortality in the United States," shared their findings during a PRB webinar.

Highlights:

Why Focus on Educational Attainment, Mortality, and Life Expectancy?

  • Large, impressive, and growing literatures on education-health and education-mortality.
  • Leading scholars have even termed education a "fundamental cause of health and disease."
  • Educational attainment facilitates access to important resources throughout life.
  • Educational attainment is policy amenable.

Investing in Education

  • Invest in children during the entire education process.
  • Empower teenagers with the opportunity to complete high school.
  • Steep reduction in mortality rates for high school graduates.
  • Value of additional year(s) of education (length and quality of life).

Two Policy Approaches

  • Target educational disparities in mortality.
  • Improve overall population health.

Challenges to Enhancing Education Policy

  • Disparity policies do not address the entire population.
  • Population improvement policies do not address disparities.
  • Years or decades occur between investing in education and mortality benefit.
  • Difficult to predict how investments will affect mortality long term.

Conclusions

  • Clear evidence that educational attainment improves health and lengthens life.
  • Too many young adults without a high school degree in the United States.
  • Urge enhanced educational investment to substantially increase high school completion.
  • Future research necessary given increasing complexity of educational attainment.

Robert Hummer is Centennial Commission Professor of Liberal Arts in the department of sociology and Population Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin. Elaine Hernandez is a postdoctoral fellow at the Population Research Center, University of Texas at Austin.