The research was conducted by David Cutler and Ellen Meara at Harvard University. Over the years, much attention has been paid to mortality rates based on socio-economic status, but less attention has been paid to recent trends in life expectancy, mortality, and education level. To understand recent mortality trends, Meara and Cutler combined death certificate data with census population estimates and data from the National Longitudinal Mortality Study. Restricting analyses to whites and non-Hispanic blacks, the team created two separate data sets, one covering 1981-1988, and the other 1990-2000.
In both data sets, life expectancy rose for individuals who had more than twelve years of education. For those with twelve years or less, it plateaued. For example, comparing the 1980s to the 1990s, better educated individuals experienced nearly a year and a half of increased life expectancy, while the less educated experienced only half a year. For 1990-2000, life expectancy rose an additional 1.6 years for better educated, while remaining fixed for the less educated.
In addition, when the data was broken down by gender, the researchers found that women fared worse than men. Less educated women, regardless of race, experienced a slight decline in life expectancy at age 25. Overall in the groups studied, as of 2000, better educated at age 25 could expect to live to age 82; for less educated, 75.
The researchers found that much of the mortality gap can be attributed to smoking related illnesses. Just two diseases usually caused by smoking, lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, which comprises chronic bronchitis and emphysema, account for 20 percent of growing mortality differences in the 1990s. Many other illnesses like heart disease and other types of cancer, also count smoking as contributing factors. The importance of smoking is not surprising, since other data has shown that the less educated have not given up smoking to the same extent that those with more education have.
MEDICA.de; Source: Harvard Medical School