More Education Lengthens Life. Here's How Much

By   |  January 26, 2024

By Dennis Thompson HealthDay Reporter  |  Copyright © 2024 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

FRIDAY, Jan. 26, 2024 (HealthDay News) -- “Stay in school” slogans tend to focus on the money, status and freedom that more education can provide.

Now there’s another argument for getting as many degrees as you can -- having a longer life.

The higher a person’s level of education, the lower their risk of premature death, claims a new global study published Jan. 23 in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Researchers found that a person’s risk of death dropped by an average 2% with every additional year of education they attained.

That means people who complete six years of elementary school have an average 13% lower risk of death. A high school education cuts a person’s death risk by nearly 25%, and getting a Master’s degree lowered the risk by 34%.

“More education leads to better employment and higher income, better access to healthcare, and helps us take care of our own health,” said co-lead author Mirza Balaj, a postdoctoral fellow at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.

"Highly educated people also tend to develop a larger set of social and psychological resources that contribute to their health and the length of their lives,” Balaj added in a university news release.

For the study, researchers pooled data from 59 countries collected in more than 600 previously published studies.

The team also compared the effects of education to other longevity-influencing factors such as eating healthy, smoking or excessive drinking.

What did they find?

The benefit of 18 years of education -- the amount needed for a Master’s degree -- can be compared to that of always eating the ideal amount of vegetables, as opposed to not eating veggies at all.

Meanwhile, not going to school at all is as bad for a person as having five or more alcoholic drinks a day or smoking 10 cigarettes a day for 10 years, they added.

The benefits of education are greatest for young people, but researchers found a protective effect even among those older than 50 and even 70.

They also found that more years of education is just as effective in rich countries as in poor ones.

The findings highlight the need to promote education everywhere, particularly in developing nations, researchers said.

“Closing the education gap means closing the mortality gap, and we need to interrupt the cycle of poverty and preventable deaths with the help of international commitment,” said co-lead author Claire Henson, a researcher with the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

“In order to reduce inequalities in mortality, it’s important to invest in areas that promote people’s opportunities to get an education,” Henson added. “This can have a positive effect on population health in all countries.”

More information

Tulane University has more about education and health.

SOURCE: Norwegian University of Science and Technology, news release, Jan. 23, 2024