Longevity Up in U.S., but Education Creates Disparity, Study
By Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times
April 3, 2012
Americans are living longer, but the gains in life span are accruing
disproportionately among the better educated, according to a new report
by researchers from the University of Wisconsin.
Researchers have long known of the correlation between education and
length of life, but the report provides a detailed picture of what that
link looks like across the country’s more than 3,000 counties.
The study, which was financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation,
uses government data to rank each American county by health indicators
like obesity, smoking, drinking, physical inactivity and premature
death. It even considers factors like the density of fast-food
restaurants in a county.
Its findings show that the link between college education and longevity
has grown stronger over time. Premature death rates differed sharply
across counties, and a lack of college education accounted for about 35
percent of that variation from 2006 to 2008, the most recent years
available, said Bridget Booske Catlin, a researcher at the University
of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, who directed the study. That
was up from 30 percent over an equivalent period seven years earlier.
The study defines premature deaths as those that occur before age 75
and are often preventable.
The findings offered fresh evidence that Americans’ fortunes are
diverging by education level. Education has emerged as an important
predictor of good health and future earnings, but its unequal
distribution among towns and cities has led to an increasingly uneven
geography of well-being in the country.
According to the findings, when average post-secondary education levels
increased by one year, there was a 16 percent decline in years of life
lost before age 75, Ms. Catlin said.
There were vast gaps in health and longevity by geography. In New York,
for example, Putnam County, north of New York City, was the healthiest,
with just 8 percent of its residents in poor or fair health, compared
with 25 percent in the Bronx, which had the worst health of any county
in New York. Adult obesity was about the same in both places — around a
third of the population — but the Bronx had a teen birth rate that was
more than five times that of Putnam County. The report did not offer
comparative rankings nationally, only within states.
The premature death rate in the Bronx, 8 out of 100, was nearly double
the rate in Putnam, 4.4 out of 100. Fast-food restaurants made up 44
percent of restaurants in Putnam County, compared with 62 percent of
restaurants in the Bronx.
The gap in education was correspondingly stark. More than 90 percent of
teenagers in Putnam County graduated from high school, compared with 60
percent of those in the Bronx, and 70 percent of adults attended some
college, compared with 47 percent of adults in the Bronx.
The rates for health insurance differed sharply. Seventeen percent of
residents in the Bronx were without health insurance, compared with 8
percent of residents in Putnam County.
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