Research by Columbia Mailman School’s Dr. L.H. Lumey, professor of epidemiology with colleagues from the Netherlands, presents a novel way to disentangle the highly interrelated effects of education, intelligence, and socio-economic status on life expectancy. The results suggest a possible gain of one to two months of life expectancy for men obtaining two additional years of education over men in the lowest socioeconomic level. No additional gains were seen for men in higher levels. Findings are published in PLOS One.
To estimate gains in life expectancy specifically associated with increased education, they formulated a structural model that allows for a strong selection into education based on socioeconomic background, IQ, and a factor that captures all the unmeasured components of intelligence.
Effects are estimated using anonymous health examinations in the Netherlands for males entering military service between 1962 and 1965. Using national population registries and death records for follow up, the researchers were able to trace over 95 percent of over 39,000 selected men born in the years 1944 to 1947 until January 2011, when the oldest had reached the age of 66 years and 15 percent of the men had died.
“Our study presents one way to estimate education gains on health after the selectivity of education choice has been taken into account,” said Dr. Lumey. “Our findings are encouraging but need replications in other settings because the impact of education improvements is likely to be highly specific to the social environment. Our methods could help estimate the impact of education improvements in selected population subgroups as the expected gains may not apply to all.”
The study was supported by the U.S. National Institutes of Health grant RO1-AG028593