Higher education has many benefits: wider job opportunities, better earning potential, longer life expectancy. Wait, longer life expectancy? Yes. According to a report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, college graduates tend to live, on the whole, nine years longer than those who’ve only graduates from high school. And the findings aren’t just a statistical blip. The NCHS analyzed data going back over more than ten years, and the life expectancy difference was present throughout.
This finding doesn’t surprise Gina Lundberg, a preventative cardiologist from Atlanta. Any life expectancy studies done of the past several decades have shown that a shorter life span is one of the ways that the less-educated lose out to their more-educated peers. The question that hasn’t been fully answered is why that is so, although some have put forward several hypotheses.
he study found that in 2010, 31% of adults ages 25 to 64 with a high school diploma or less were currently smoking, compared with 24% of those who had some college and 9% with a bachelor’s degree.
“Highly educated people tend to have healthier behaviors, avoid unhealthy ones and have more access to medical care when they need it,” says the report’s lead author, Amy Bernstein, a health services researcher for the National Center for Health Statistics. “All of these factors are associated with better health.”
Another contributing factor could be the rate of obesity. The same report found that nearly a quarter of the boys and only slightly fewer girls that came from families where the head of the household had only a high school diploma were obese. Bernstein said that the earning potential of the less-educated individuals also has an impact on the quality of the food that their families consumed. Poorer families have less access to fresh fruit and vegetables, and fewer resources to ensure a varied and healthy diet for their kids, resulting in higher obesity numbers. In contrast, only 11% of boys and 7% of girls with higher-educated families are classified as obese. Whether that number comes from better diet or better understanding of nutrition is unclear.
What is clear is that education puts tools into the hands of individuals that can help them thrive even in non-economical ways. A bachelor’s degree, and the bump in income it implies, not only has the potential to expand their life, but it will also allow their children to grow up healthier and, in turn, better educated too.