A little more education, a little longer life?

May 14, 2012 By Barbara Bronson Gray, HealthDay Reporter
A little more education, a little longer life?
Long-term study found an association between the two.

(HealthDay) -- It's graduation season, and new research offers yet another reason to congratulate someone who has completed at least nine years of education: They're likely to live longer.

An unusual, comprehensive study involving 1.2 million shows that students who were exposed to nine years of education rather than eight had a lower mortality rate after age 40. While the finding suggests an association between level of education and , it does not establish a cause-and-effect link.

Those exposed to the additional year of education also had lower mortality from causes known to be related to education. The research, by Anton Lager of the Centre of Studies and Jenny Torssander of the Swedish Institute for Social Research, both part of Stockholm University, was published in this week's issue of the .

Many studies have shown a link between more years of education and . But it has been difficult for researchers to show that the cause wasn't just , such as the ability to stick with school or delay gratification. It has also been hard to determine whether secondary benefits -- getting a better job or earning a higher income, for instance -- might be the reason why people with more education develop fewer .

A policy change in Sweden provided a ready-made method to help solve those mysteries and answer the question: Are the number of years in school uniquely associated with better health?

From 1949 to 1962, Sweden added one year of compulsory schooling. Children continued to start school at age 7; the new program increased the number of years in school from eight to nine.

The change was implemented in a way that was designed to facilitate long-term evaluation of the value and impact of the additional year in school. All children born between 1943 and 1955 in 900 municipalities were included in the study. Each year, as the program was phased in, children in some municipalities were included in the new nine-year system and others were not. Those not included were the control group. The researchers gathered data on age of death and causes of mortality until 2007. During the 58-year follow-up period, about 92,000 of those in the study died due to various causes.

The authors found that in what they call "later adulthood," after age 40, the group with the ninth year of education had lower mortality from all diseases than did those with eight years in school. Those people also had a lower death rate from lung cancer, all cancers and accidents. Women with the ninth year of school were less likely to die from ischemic heart disease; men were less likely to die from external causes. All deaths of those in the study, except for the 2 percent to 3 percent who emigrated, were recorded.

Lager said the study shows the reason for lower mortality is not knowledge in and of itself. He speculated that the ninth year helped students develop a different attitude about themselves. "If your life is a little better, you take a little better care of yourself. If you make a little more income, have a job with a little more flexibility, more control of time, then maybe you use less tobacco and alcohol," he said.

Dr. Mark Cullen, a professor of medicine at Stanford University with research interests in social and environmental determinants of health, said "the study adds strong evidence that including additional years in school and higher education has a substantial impact on longevity."

Cullen believes the additional year contributed to the students' long-term ability to understand health messages, think effectively and manage their lives. "We should never discount the direct value of in helping you interpret information and be involved in your own health," he said.

Explore further: Do well at school to avoid heart disease later, research shows

More information: “The causal effect of education on mortality: 58-year follow-up of a quasi-experiment on 1.2 million Swedes,” by Anton Lager and Jenny Torssander, PNAS, 2012.

For more on healthy aging, head to the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

Related Stories

Do well at school to avoid heart disease later, research shows

July 7, 2011
Students who leave school without any qualifications can expect to suffer from poorer health and greater risk of heart disease than those with some qualifications, according to new research.

Teen school drop-outs three times as likely to be on benefits in later life

February 6, 2012
Teen school drop-outs are almost three times as likely to be on benefits in later life as their peers who complete their schooling, indicates research published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Recommended for you

Higher manganese levels in children correlate with lower IQ scores, study finds

September 21, 2017
A study led by environmental health researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine finds that children in East Liverpool, Ohio with higher levels of Manganese (Mn) had lower IQ scores. The research appears ...

Researchers see popular herbicide affecting health across generations

September 20, 2017
First, the good news. Washington State University researchers have found that a rat exposed to a popular herbicide while in the womb developed no diseases and showed no apparent health effects aside from lower weight.

One e-cigarette with nicotine leads to adrenaline changes in nonsmokers' hearts

September 20, 2017
A new UCLA study found that healthy nonsmokers experienced increased adrenaline levels in their heart after one electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) with nicotine but there were no increased adrenaline levels when the study ...

Higher levels of fluoride in pregnant woman linked to lower intelligence in their children

September 20, 2017
Fluoride in the urine of pregnant women shows a correlation with lower measures of intelligence in their children, according to University of Toronto researchers who conducted the first study of its kind and size to examine ...

India has avoided 1 million child deaths since 2005, new study concludes

September 19, 2017
India has avoided about 1 million deaths of children under age five since 2005, driven by significant reductions in mortality from pneumonia, diarrhea, tetanus and measles, according to new research published today.

Gulf spill oil dispersants associated with health symptoms in cleanup workers

September 19, 2017
Workers who were likely exposed to dispersants while cleaning up the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill experienced a range of health symptoms including cough and wheeze, and skin and eye irritation, according to scientists ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.