Knowledge is power. If you're better educated, it seems logical that you won't die as young (you'll earn more, you'll have access to better health services, you'll be more aware of the risks). However, a wide-ranging study covering 1.2 million Swedish children suggests that any death-dodging benefit from additional education isn't statistically evident until much later in life.
Picture by Hakan Dahlstrom
The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, represent one of the broader attempts to quantify something that seems obvious but which is hard to accurately measure. Here's the key details from the research summary:
Anton Lager and Jenny Torssander calculated the long-term mortality risk of 1.2 million children born between 1943 and 1955 in 900 Swedish municipalities enrolled in a nationwide experiment conducted over a 13-year period. In the experiment, children in some municipalities received an additional year of schooling at the age of 15; during the 58-year-long follow-up, 92,351 of the children died due to various causes. The authors’ analyses revealed no obvious impacts of additional schooling on mortality risk among all age groups, but suggested a small drop in the risk of all-cause mortality after age 40 for those who received an extra year of schooling, which also lowered the risk of death due to cancer, accidents, and for women, ischemic heart disease. The findings are far from conclusive, but suggest that any causal effects of education on mortality are likely to surface late in life, according to the authors.
The big lesson? While there isn't a strong correlation between education and life expectancy, there is a slight one (and no advantage whatsoever in less education). Chalk it up as another reason to learn as much as possible for as long as you can.