How does education affect life expectancy?

The life expectancy of Americans has gone up by at least a decade for men and women since the 1960s. Life expectancy at birth for women now at an impressive 81 years and men 76 years. But what factors are going into this increased lifespan? Researchers have found a correlation with higher academic attainment and a greater lifespan. This can obviously be tied to other factors – but just how much of it has to do with simply being more educated? More people today are getting high school diplomas than in the past.

Simply getting a high school diploma greatly increases one’s projected lifespan by a very large amount, as seen in this graph created by theĀ Population Bulletin.

Source: Jennifer Karas Montez et al., "Educational Attainment and Adult Mortality in the United States: A Systematic Analysis of Functional Form," Demography 49, no. 1 (2012

Source: Jennifer Karas Montez et al., “Educational Attainment and Adult Mortality in the United States: A Systematic Analysis of Functional Form,” Demography 49, no. 1 (2012)

What significance does this hold? Does education correlate with life expectancy directly, or more with reduced risky behaviors like smoking and drinking, lengthening their lifespans in that way? To reach a greater amount of academia might mean the person is wealthy, therefore can spend more of their wealth insuring a longer life. Does educating more people really lead to longer lives, and what should we be doing with that knowledge?

These are simply just some ideas, but I am curious at what people think about these numbers. How important do others think education is for our country, developing countries, the entire world? It could mean lower risk of war and possibly disease spread by ill education, such as STDs or other forms of preventable infection. In developing countries, giving the ability to have an education will significantly affect those populations.

Of course, other factors go into life expectancy, but maybe we should look at education as more of a right or necessity than a privilege given only to those “worthy” of getting it.