Some of the benefits of a better education are obvious. You’ll know more stuff and the chances are you’ll get a higher paid job and reap all the commensurate benefits associated with that. There is now increasing evidence, though, that it will also lead to better psychological and even physical health. A study published in PLOS ONE back in July conducted an analysis of more than one million Americans born in 1925 and 1945. They compared the level of education achieved; completing university against attending but not completing university against stopping after graduating high school against not even finishing high school; with mortality.
What they found was that there was nearly 150,000 excess deaths in the group that didn’t complete high school compared to those that did. That’s about the same number of extra people who would be alive if all smokers in the US quit and became non-smokers. Put another way, not finishing high school is as bad for your health as taking up smoking. They also found that a further 110,000 people could be alive if they had completed their university degree. They found that the effect held up between the sexes and across ethnic groups.
There is increasing evidence that the relationship between higher education and the mechanisms that result in a longer healthy life are actually causal, not just correlational. Higher socio-economic status, enhanced cognitive development, better adherence to medical treatments, healthier behaviours and improved social connections and psychological wellbeing all contribute to better outcomes in life and are as a result of a high level of education.
There are clear implications here for policy makers. The potential benefits of having more of your population having a better education are not just limited to the obvious impact on the jobs market and your nation’s economic competitiveness. People will live longer, healthier, more productive lives; it’s a win-win.
Remember: stay in school, kids.