(August 2002) When asked to list the benefits of a college education, most people name higher incomes and a rich intellectual life. Now it is clear that better health should be added to the list.
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Mortality rates for Americans ages 25 to 64 who have attended college are less than half the rates for those who stopped education after completing high school. In 1999, the most recent year for which final mortality rates have been published, there were 219 deaths per 100,000 people per year for those with 13 or more years of education, compared with 474 per 100,000 for those with 12 years, and 585 per 100,000 for those with fewer than 12 years of education. These differences are somewhat greater for men than for women.
The mortality advantage for Americans with higher education has been growing in recent decades, according to several studies that used census and survey data. And there is an added advantage for educated people in rates of illness and disability, so that those with some college education enjoy extra years of healthy life. Two factors that partly explain the education advantage are lifestyle (educated people are less likely to smoke or engage in other risky behaviors) and health insurance (people with more education tend to have better coverage than those with less education).
Note: Rates are adjusted to the 2000 age distribution. Rates are not published for those less than 25 years old, for many of whom education is not yet completed, nor for those over age 64, for whom death certificates often do not contain precise information on educational attainment. Data for single years from 1994 to 1998 are available from the National Center for Health Statistics, Centers for Disease Control, Health, United States, 2001 (table 35) at www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus01.pdf.
Donna L. Lyert, Elizabeth Arias et al., “Deaths: Final Data for 1999,” National Vital Statistics Reports 49, no. 8 (2001): table 23.