Life expectancy gap widens between education levels

Americans without a college degree have a lower life expectancy compared to those with a degree, according to a new study. The gap in life expectancy between these two groups appears to be widening.

The study, featured in the Fall 2023 edition of the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, found that life expectancy increased for both educational groups between 1992 and 2010.

Notable Differences Post-2010

In 2010, a 25-year-old without a four-year college degree could expect to live about another 54 years, as opposed to 58 extra years for a person of the same age with a bachelor’s degree, according to the study.

However, leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic, life expectancy largely stagnated for those without a degree even as it continued to rise for those with a degree.

Pandemic’s Impact on Life Expectancy

Woman Wearing Face Mask
Photo by: Anna Shvets

By 2019, life expectancy for the latter group had slightly increased to about 59 years past the age of 25, or about 84 years in total, while it dropped slightly for the former, moving closer to 53 additional years.

During the pandemic, life expectancy shortened for both groups — but more for those without a degree, further expanding the gap. By 2021, a person without a four-year degree was only expected to live another 50, while a person with a degree could still expect to live about another 58.

Authors’ Reflections on the Findings

Anne Case, one of the report authors, said in an interview with The Brookings Institution, “GDP may be doing great, but people are dying in increasing numbers, especially less-educated people.”

“A lot of the increasing prosperity is going to the well-educated elites. It is not going to typical working people,” added Case, emphasizing a notable disparity that seems to have been exacerbated over time and adverse circumstances, like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The insights provided by this study highlight the need to address educational and socioeconomic disparities in the context of public health and life expectancy, invoking a reflection on how structural factors can significantly influence the quality and length of individuals’ lives.

With information from The Hill

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