30 Under 30 2024

Staying in education helps you live longer, scientists say

Dr Terje Andreas Eikemo, study co-author and head of the Centre for Global Health Inequalities Research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, reveals that each additional year spent in education could reduce mortality by around two percent

Published: Jan 27, 2024 06:51:48 AM IST
Updated: Jan 25, 2024 06:06:15 PM IST

Staying in education helps you live longer, scientists say Every year spent in education reduces mortality by 2%, reveals a study published in The Lancet Public Health. Image: Shutterstock

Want to live longer? Get an education! This might sound like surprising advice, but that's exactly what researchers found when they looked at the impact of education on life expectancy. Their findings reveal that each additional year spent in education could reduce mortality by around 2%.

Many studies have demonstrated that higher levels of education are associated with longer life expectancy, but none has been able to determine the extent to which education can reduce mortality. A team of researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology has now investigated this question, and their findings suggest that every year spent in school or university has a significant influence on life expectancy.

"Education is important in its own right, not just for its benefits on health, but now being able to quantify the magnitude of this benefit is a significant development," explains Dr Terje Andreas Eikemo, study co-author and head of the Centre for Global Health Inequalities Research at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, quoted in a news release.

Graduating from secondary school lowers the risk of death by nearly 25%

The researchers drew on data from no fewer than 59 countries, including the USA, France, India, Australia and the UK, with over 10,000 data points collected from more than 600 published papers. Although this research is based on a vast array of data, the scientists point out that most of it comes from high-income countries -- a limitation that the authors say highlights the need for further research in low- and middle-income countries.

Published in The Lancet Public Health, their findings highlight the fact that each additional year in education is associated with a 2% lower mortality risk. They point out that this corresponds to an average 13% lower risk of death for those who complete elementary school (around six years of schooling, depending on the region), compared to those who did not attend school. Graduation from secondary school (about 12 years of education) was associated with a 24.5% reduction in mortality, and graduation from higher education (18 years of schooling) with a 34% reduction in the risk of death.

"We need to increase social investments to enable access to better and more education around the globe to stop the persistent inequalities that are costing lives. More education leads to better employment and higher income, better access to healthcare, and helps us take care of our own health. Highly educated people also tend to develop a larger set of social and psychological resources that contribute to their health and the length of their lives," says study co-author, Mirza Balaj.

Also read: Democratising Education in India: Breaking barriers and building bridges

As bad as smoking

Even more surprisingly, the researchers suggest that the life expectancy benefits of 18 years of schooling would be similar to those associated with ideal vegetable consumption. The study also reveals that not going to school could be as bad for health as drinking five or more glasses of alcohol a day, or smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day for ten years. Despite the limitations of this study, notably linked to the lesser inclusion of low-income countries, the scientists report they found "no significant difference in the effects of education between countries that have reached different stages of development."

"Closing the education gap means closing the mortality gap, and we need to interrupt the cycle of poverty and preventable deaths with the help of international commitment. In order to reduce inequalities in mortality, it’s important to invest in areas that promote people’s opportunities to get an education. This can have a positive effect on population health in all countries," concludes the study's co-lead author, Claire Henson, a researcher at Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine.

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