Excess Mortality Attributable to Low Levels of Education in the United States

Patrick M. Krueger, University of Colorado at Denver
Melanie Tran, University of Colorado at Denver
Virginia W. Chang, New York University (NYU)

Educational attainment has a persistent, graded association with mortality among U.S. adults, and educational disparities are widening over time. However, the magnitude of those disparities, relative to other modifiable risk factors (e.g.,smoking, obesity), is poorly understood. We estimate the annual mortality attributable to low education in the 1986 to 2004 waves of the National Health Interview Survey, linked to prospective mortality through 2006, and compare educational disparites in mortality from the 1925, 1935, and 1945 birth cohorts. Based on educational disparities in mortality in the 1945 birth cohort, the mortality attributable to having less than a post-baccalaureate education was 629,329 deaths in 2010--1.5 to 2 times as many deaths as can be attributed to smoking or obesity. Widening educational disparities in mortality suggest the importance of considering educational policy as a central feature of health policy in the U.S.

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Presented in Session 111: Mortality Trends and Differentials I