Robert Hummer, a demographic researcher at the University of Texas discussed the topic of The Increasing Importance of Education for Longevity in the United States in an interview at the Population Reference Bureau website recently. The following are Professor Hummer’s responses to questions asked which I found thought provoking, with some of my commentary:
“The relationship between education and longevity is strong in every context I have examined. While not every high educated person will live a long life and not every low educated person will die early, on balance, I do think that education works to improve health and improve longevity given all the data we have accumulated on the subject. “
This assertion validates both public and private support for education as a contributing factor to public health.
” I think increasing levels of education among adults will be more and more important in the years ahead–to improve skill levels, and to help keep people healthier and productive for many years. I have a forthcoming paper that shows that additional education during the adult years helps to improve health…so it is not just education that is obtained during childhood and adolescence that matters. “
The need for improving skills is clear as changes in labor markets and technology will require workers to adapt and work more years than perhaps originally forecast. The health benefits from adult education should reduce the cost burden both on individuals and government health initiatives.
“some of my work clearly shows that people with high school equivalency degrees (e.g., a GED) have higher mortality than people with standard high school degrees. They are not equivalent…at least in terms of their associations with mortality. So I do think such distinctions can be very important.”
This conclusion is encouraging because it suggests that improvement in education levels at the low end of the spectrum may yield significant reductions in mortality rates and gains in overall public health.
” My work has focused on both years of schooling as well as degrees (e.g., High School Diploma, College Diploma, etc…). Each year of education is associated with reduced mortality. But my group’s work also clearly shows that:
1) Each additional year prior to a high school diploma is associated with reduced mortality, but not by all that much with each additional year.
2) The achievement of a high school diploma is associated with a very sizable reduction in mortality.
3) After a high school diploma, each additional year is associated with a sizable reduction in mortality that is of greater magnitude than the lower years of education.
4) There is no “ceiling effect” of education in terms of reduced mortality…even at very high levels of education, additional years are associated with lower mortality.
“My group’s research findings strongly suggest that education is increasingly important for health and mortality in the United States. And we also have shown that the effects of education play out over the life course…across decades and decades of time. Thus, my sense is that what we do now in terms of education — at all levels, not only including college — is going to impact the nation’s health for many decades looking ahead. In my view, educational funding and policy decisions are critical health policy decisions as well. “
The concept that there is no “ceiling effect” to reduced mortality through additional education is encouraging, as relative to medical treatments, education programs are likely less costly relative to the increase in longevity and increase the productivity of human capital.
Professor Hummer’s CV can be found here; it seems clear from that that he is well qualified to advise the public on this subject. The conclusions discussed above are applicable to other countries besides the United States, per his comments in the linked interview. Overall, his research seems well worth a careful review.