In 1979, the British rock band Pink Floyd released their trademark hit recording, “Another Brick in the Wall,” and left generations singing its famous line: “We don’t need no education!”
While there are innumerable arguments that could be made against that claim, a new study just found another persuasive one: Education may add years to the human lifespan.
Researchers at the University of Colorado, Denver, New York University, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that people with higher levels of education live longer. They noted that higher education levels usually lead to higher income and social status, healthier behaviors, and improved social and psychological well-being.
The team used samples of people born in 1925, 1935 and 1945 and studied how each cohort’s different education levels (whether they had baccalaureate degrees, high school degrees, or college degrees) affected mortality over time.
According to their findings, mortality rates fell modestly among those with high school degrees, while mortality rates fell much more rapidly among those with college degrees. In other words, the group with the highest level of education had the least amount of deaths in comparison to the other groups.
“Our results suggest that policies and interventions that improve educational attainment could substantially improve survival in the U.S. population, especially given widening educational disparities,” wrote Patrick Krueger, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Colorado Denver. “Unless these trends change, the mortality attributable to low education will continue to increase in the future.”
The study indicated that adults with more education resulted in better paying jobs, "reduced incidence of medical conditions, better outcomes among those with acute and chronic disease, and greater reductions in smoking."
Virginia Chang, associate professor of population health at NYU School of Medicine, who was also involved in the study, stressed that education should “be a key element of U.S. health policy.”
“The bottom line is paying attention to education has the potential to substantively reduce mortality,” professor Chang said.
The longevity benefits of an education don’t end with degree-holding students. Parents also have personal incentives to send their children off for college.
In a 2014 study published by the journal Demography, sociologists Esther M. Friedman and Robert D. Mare found that parents of college graduates lived about two years longer on average than those whose children didn’t graduate from high school, the Pew Research Center reports.
Their findings showed that parents benefit from every additional level of their children’s education. “Parents of a college graduate lived slightly longer on average than those whose child had attended college but did not graduate. And both of those sets of parents lived longer than the parents of a child with only a high school degree or less education,” wrote Pew Research’s Rich Morin.
While the study couldn’t explain exactly why this is the case, the researchers guessed that better-educated children might influence their parents to live healthier lifestyles, which would essentially let them live longer.
Whether or not Americans are aware of these long-term benefits of a solid education, more students seem to be enrolling now more than ever.
According to data compiled by the Census Bureau, the national high school dropout rate reached a record low last year. Only seven percent of 18-to-24 year olds had dropped out of high school, continuing a steady decline in the nation’s dropout rate since 2000, when 12 percent of youth were dropouts.
And if President Obama’s proposal for tuition-free community colleges for “responsible students” goes through, the dropout rate might continue to decrease in the near future.