Educational attainment linked to longer life


grandmother and granddaughter

August 7, 2015

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Here's another good reason to finish that degree; it could just help you live a longer life.

At least that's what a recent study by researchers at the University of Colorado, New York University and the University of North Carolina found. The study utilized data from the National Health Interview Survey to estimate education-and cohort-specific mortality rates. What the researchers found is that mortality attributable to low education is comparable in magnitude to mortality attributable to individuals being current rather than former smokers.

Increase education, researchers claimed, and you can significantly reduce adult mortality. According to Dr. Jeffrey Lynn, an associate professor in SRU's exercise science program, it may not be that simple due to the inherent selection bias in such a study, but that doesn't mean more education will not indirectly increase an individual's lifespan.

"When a study like this is done it's really important to control for extraneous variables," said Lynn. "If people who are more highly educated are of a more socioeconomic status then you can never be sure what's contributing to their decreased mortality rate.

To make broad sweeping conclusions that somehow education is affecting people to make them live longer would be a faulty conclusion. With all that being said, once you receive an education it opens the door to different career paths. Those career paths often provide opportunities for a more focused approach for maintaining health and wellness."

Lynn also said that above all else the atmosphere that can surround colleges often promote a healthier lifestyle which students tend to take with them once they leave school.

jeff lynn


"An educational institution has to make a deliberate attempt to help its students understand and fashion the tools to be well through life," said Lynn. "Slippery Rock is one of the better university's at doing this. It's part of the mission of the university. There's a president's commission on wellness, which is rare. There are a variety of health-related initiatives all over this campus and they're popular."

Lynn credited SRU's powerful physical education, exercise science, athletic training, therapeutic recreation and physical therapy programs as one of the main reasons Slippery Rock has succeeded on the wellness front.

"When you've got some of your largest and most well-known programs that are focused on health it can't help but to bleed out to the rest of the university and affect the culture," said Lynn. "Slippery Rock is still one of the best institutions when it comes to health, wellness and fitness. This is evidenced by the amount of people that come here for that and the success they have when they leave here."

The study found that women with a graduate degree live 12 years longer than those without a high school diploma and six years longer than those who stopped their education after graduating from high school. The number of years is even wider for men. Males with graduate degrees live 16 years longer than those without a high school diploma and nine years longer than those with just a high school education.

"There is probably both a correlation and causation," said Dr. Keith Dils, dean of Slippery Rock's college of education. "Having an education tends to cause one to pick good, healthy choices. An education helps us to understand how best to live life. It helps us to develop the habits of good living and the thinking skills to make good choices."

As noted by Lynn and Dils, the answer as to why there is such a higher life expectancy is layered, but the main variables seem to be the positive effects that higher education often has in relation to income, insurance, wellness programs, lifestyle, workplace environment and stress.

"If you can deal positively with the stress, travel, responsibility and lack of leisure time that often comes with higher salaries, then certainly having more resources can lead to healthier living," Dils said.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, adults over the age of 25 whose highest education was high school earned a median weekly income of $668. That amount spikes to $1,101 per week for those with a bachelor's degree and $1,326 per week for those with a master's degree.

Well-paying jobs represent greater economic security and ability to accumulate wealth, enabling individuals to provide their families with more nutritious foods, to obtain quality child care, to educate their children and to live in healthier homes and neighborhoods.

keith dils


"If you can deal positively with the negative aspects of a "better" job, then certainly having more resources can lead to healthier living," said Dils. "However, maybe more importantly, once a job provides health care insurance, wellness training and a salary that allows you to enjoy leisure time, a job that is fulfilling to you is probably most important for living longer."

Dils' message to current and future Slippery Rock students looking to live a long and healthy life is to take advantage of the career opportunities that Slippery Rock provides and do everything possible to enjoy a full and rewarding journey.

"Make healthy choices and pursue the higher education degree that will help you land a job you find rewarding," Dils said. "To do so, go to the career job placement center here at SRU and take a personality inventory to get feedback on your strengths and appetites as it relates to possible careers. Stay curious and pursue as many educational opportunities and degrees as you can, while also working in jobs related to your ultimate career objective.

Read, travel and expand your network of friends and acquaintances. Laugh. Enjoy music and the arts. Keep a good work, school and life balance. Seek hobbies that keep you active and seek to join organizations that keep you socially connected. Meditate or do something spiritual, that is, do something daily that raises your spirits. Never give up, keep pursuing your dreams. Then find someone to share it all with."

MEDIA CONTACT: Tyler McIntosh | 724.738.2777 |