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Soc Sci Med. 2012 Dec;75(11):2007-12. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.07.036. Epub 2012 Aug 10.

Glitch in the gradient: additional education does not uniformly equal better health.

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University of Wyoming, Department of Sociology, Dept. 3293, 1000 E University Ave., Laramie, WY 82071, United States.


While the relationship between education and general health has been firmly established in the literature, surprisingly little research has analyzed individual components of the global health judgments, such as chronic conditions or pain. We present a systematic account of the health gradient for multiple health outcomes by detailed educational categories among U.S. working-age adults. Using the 1997-2010 National Health Interview Surveys (N = 204,764), we analyze individual health outcomes ranging from cardiovascular disease to vision problems with a series of logistic regression models. The results at the presecondary and baccalaureate levels are consistent with the health gradient. An unexpected finding occurs among adults with some college but no degree, and those with technical/vocational associate degrees: these groups report more pain and a higher prevalence of a broad range of conditions than high school graduates who never attended college. We discuss several explanations for the observed patterns. The findings challenge the broadly accepted educational gradient in health; additionally, the lower postsecondary groups comprise a quarter of American adults. Jointly, there is a clear research and policy impetus to understand the source of this 'glitch' in the health gradient.

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