If there was ever a compelling argument for staying in school, this is it: Finishing high school could save your life.
According to a new study led by researchers at the University of Colorado, the less education you have, the more likely you are to die early.
Researchers who conducted the study determined that a high school degree leads to longer life.
While several other studies have pointed to links between low education levels and high mortality rates, the difference with this study was that it aimed to put a number on the magnitude of the association.
They estimated that 145,243 deaths in 2010 were attributable to people having less than a high school diploma. To put the finding in perspective, that, the study says, is comparable to the number of deaths that could likely be avoided if current smokers had the same mortality rates as former smokers.
And, the study says, educational disparities in mortality are increasing. While life expectancy has gone up for those with higher levels of education, such as a bachelor’s degree, the researchers point out that it has stagnated for people with less than a high school education, and actually declined among women without a high school diploma.
The researchers drilled into the figures and found that the disparity is especially significant when it comes to cardiovascular disease. It’s less pronounced for cancer.
Research like this is interesting and it’s important to understand a problem if you’re going to try to fix it. Fixing the education system is a challenge. Public education does a great job and schools work hard to keep kids plugged in through the 12th grade but then what? We will never completely eliminate high school dropouts but in school districts like Clinton great strides have been made to reduce the number of dropouts. The bigger challenge is providing affordable access to vocational and college training post high school.
College accessibility and affordability have been hotly debated in recent weeks, as 2016 candidates and lawmakers weigh in on how to get more people into higher education. I’m not about to open that can of worms but this study provides evidence that health policy might need to be a part of the discussion. Public health policy often centers on programs to help people lose weight or eat healthier, this research might provide an avenue for expanded access to education as a way to improve the overall health of our country.