Story at a glance

  • Based on mortality data from nearly 49 million people, researchers found those with bachelor’s degrees live up to three years longer.
  • Researchers blame automated job markets and demand for more skilled labor for the gulf.

The value of a four-year college degree may extend beyond better job opportunities, a higher salary and academic enrichment, but could also lead to a longer life.

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal suggests that individuals who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher have seen increasingly longer life expectancies than those who do not have at least a bachelor’s. 

The most recent data sourced from 2018 suggests that individuals who hold at least a bachelor’s degree will outlive their counterparts by approximately three years.


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Specifically, those with advanced degrees were likely to live 48.2 years out of 50, whereas those without a bachelor’s degree education lived closer to 45.1 years.

Researchers analyzed mortality data from 48.9 million people between the ages of 25-84 within the years of 1990 and 2018. From there, they controlled for deaths outside of old age, such as suicides or drug overdoses. 

Results showed a widening mortality gap between those with a degree and those without as time goes on. 

“The widening educational differences have meant that education is now a sharper differentiator of expected years of life between 25 and 75 than is race, a reversal of the situation in 1990,” researchers write.

This trend continues when adjusting the data to incorporate race into the analysis. While the mortality for Black Americans, for instance, is still higher than their white counterparts, education has become a larger factor in mortality discrepancies. 

“Throughout all of recorded history in the U.S., Black people have more frequently died earlier and younger than whites — that remains true,” Sir Angus Deaton, an economic professor at Princeton University told CNBC. “But what has happened is the gaps by race have narrowed and the gaps by education have widened within both groups. Differences by race, which have been there forever, are still there, but they’re becoming smaller than differences in education.”

As for the explanation behind this trend, researchers believe that a combination of a decline in wages and increasingly automated work, have reduced the supply of jobs with strong benefits for workers. 

While the data used in this analysis is pre-pandemic, the authors anticipate that the educational divide in mortality could widen further, as those without level of higher education are less likely to have jobs that permit remote work and are therefore relegated to layoffs or increased COVID-19 exposure. 


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Published on Mar 20, 2021