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Popul Res Policy Rev. 2016 Aug;35(4):501-525. Epub 2016 May 3.

Educational Attainment and Mortality in the United States: Effects of Degrees, Years of Schooling, and Certification.

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Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Department of Sociology and Population Program, University of Colorado Boulder.
Department of Sociology, University of Wyoming.


Researchers have extensively documented a strong and consistent education gradient for mortality, with more highly educated individuals living longer than those with less education. This study contributes to our understanding of the education-mortality relationship by determining the effects of years of education and degree attainment on mortality, and by including nondegree certification, an important but understudied dimension of educational attainment. We use data from the mortality-linked restricted-use files of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) sample (N=9,821) and Cox proportional hazards models to estimate mortality risk among U.S. adults. Results indicate that more advanced degrees and additional years of education are associated with reduced mortality risk in separate models, but when included simultaneously, only degrees remain influential. Among individuals who have earned a high school diploma only, additional years of schooling (beyond 12) and vocational school certification (or similar accreditation) are both independently associated with reduced risks of death. Degrees appear to be most important for increasing longevity; the findings also suggest that any educational experience can be beneficial. Future research in health and mortality should consider including educational measures beyond a single variable for educational attainment.


PSID; United States; certification; degrees; education; mortality

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