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Trends and group differences in the association between educational attainment and U.S. adult mortality: Implications for understanding education's causal influence

Author

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  • Hayward, Mark D.
  • Hummer, Robert A.
  • Sasson, Isaac

Abstract

Has the shape of the association between educational attainment and U.S. adult mortality changed in recent decades? If so, is it changing consistently across demographic groups? What can changes in the shape of the association tell us about the possible mechanisms in play for improving health and lowering mortality risk over the adult life course? This paper develops the argument that societal technological change may have had profound effects on the importance of educational attainment – particularly advanced education – in the U.S. adult population for garnering health advantages and that these changes should be reflected in changes in the functional form of the association between educational attainment and mortality. We review the historical evidence on the changing functional form of the association, drawing on studies based in the United States, to assess whether these changes are consistent with our argument about the role of technological change. We also provide an updated analysis of these functional form patterns and trends, contrasting data from the early 21st Century with data from the late 20th Century. This updated evidence suggests that the shape of the association between educational attainment and U.S. adult mortality appears to be reflecting lower and lower adult mortality for very highly educated Americans compared to their low-educated counterparts in the 21st Century. We draw on this review and updated evidence to reflect on the question whether education's association with adult mortality has become increasingly causal in recent decades, why, and the potential research, policy, and global implications of these changes.

Suggested Citation

  • Hayward, Mark D. & Hummer, Robert A. & Sasson, Isaac, 2015. "Trends and group differences in the association between educational attainment and U.S. adult mortality: Implications for understanding education's causal influence," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 127(C), pages 8-18.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socmed:v:127:y:2015:i:c:p:8-18
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2014.11.024
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. repec:dem:demres:v:38:y:2018:i:20 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Mehta, Neil & Preston, Samuel, 2016. "Are major behavioral and sociodemographic risk factors for mortality additive or multiplicative in their effects?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 154(C), pages 93-99.
    3. repec:kap:poprpr:v:37:y:2018:i:3:d:10.1007_s11113-018-9463-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    4. repec:oup:geronb:v:73:y:2018:i:1:p:124-133. is not listed on IDEAS
    5. repec:dem:demres:v:38:y:2018:i:53 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. repec:spr:demogr:v:55:y:2018:i:3:d:10.1007_s13524-018-0674-7 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. repec:gam:jsoctx:v:8:y:2018:i:2:p:26-:d:143583 is not listed on IDEAS
    8. Berchick, Edward R., 2016. "The relationship between maternal education and reported childhood conditions," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 170(C), pages 170-179.
    9. Naomi Duke & Ross Macmillan, 2016. "Schooling, skills, and self-rated health: A test of conventional wisdom on the relationship between educational attainment and health," Working Papers 087, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
    10. repec:dem:demres:v:37:y:2017:i:54 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Isaac Sasson, 2016. "Trends in Life Expectancy and Lifespan Variation by Educational Attainment: United States, 1990–2010," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 53(2), pages 269-293, April.
    12. Jennifer Karas Montez & Kaitlyn Barnes, 2016. "The Benefits of Educational Attainment for U.S. Adult Mortality: Are they Contingent on the Broader Environment?," Population Research and Policy Review, Springer;Southern Demographic Association (SDA), vol. 35(1), pages 73-100, February.

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