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Am J Epidemiol. 1989 Nov;130(5):999-1012.

Education, survival, and independence in elderly Catholic sisters, 1936-1988.

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Division of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis 55455.


Mortality among 306 Roman Catholic sisters (nuns) from Mankato, Minnesota, was assessed during the period 1936-1988; daily use of nursing services by survivors was determined in 1986; and the ability of survivors to eat, dress, and perform other self-care activities was evaluated in 1987. The median age at death was 89.4 years for sisters with educational attainment of a bachelor's degree or higher, 82.2 years for sisters with some high school or college education, and 82.0 years for sisters with only a grade school education. Odds ratios were calculated for "survival and independence" (i.e., sisters survived to 1986 (ages 75-94 years) and did not use daily nursing services at that time). These odds ratios were 2.67 (95% confidence interval (CI) 1.16-6.16) for sisters with a bachelor's degree or higher, 1.00 for the reference group with some high school or college, and 0.94 (95% CI 0.32-2.73) for sisters with only grade school. Sisters with a bachelor's degree or higher were also more likely than others to survive to old age while maintaining their ability to perform self-care activities. These findings suggest that college graduates lived longer and maintained their ability to care for themselves longer than other persons.

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