For most women, getting a higher education provides better job opportunities and more income to support their families. But have you ever considered that being a less-educated woman could shorten your lifespan?
Jennifer Karas Montez and her researchers from Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies published a study in the June 2013 Journal of Health and Social Behavior identifying the correlation between having a shorter lifespan and being a less-educated woman.
The mortality rate for white women with high school degrees is declining while white women who never finished high school are dying at a younger and younger age. In fact, according to the study, the mortality gap is increasing among educated and less-educated women.
Why are women’s education levels affecting their mortality rates? To find out, Montez and her research team gathered information about more than 46,000 white women between the ages of 45 and 84. These women had completed national health surveys between 1997 and 2006.
The women were divided into two groups based on whether they dropped out of high school or earned at least a high school diploma.
Between 1997 and 2001, the mortality rate of less-educated women was 37 percent higher than high school-graduated women. Then, between 2002 and 2006, the gap increased to a 66 percent higher mortality rate for less-educated women.
The Reasons Why
To explain these findings, researchers explored a number of economic factors affecting the women from the study, including:
- Employment, job type and income
- Relationship status
- Home ownership
- Health insurance
- Health considerations, such as smoking, alcohol consumption, obesity and mental health
Out of these factors, joblessness and smoking were the most important in explaining the disparity between mortality rates of educated and less-educated women. The researchers weren’t too shocked by this, since it’s logical that education gaps lead to employment gaps, which correlate to unhealthy behavior, such as smoking.
Closing the Gap
The reason behind a study such as this is to discover how to improve the lives of less-educated women and close the mortality gap between them and women with higher educations. Ideas for closing the gap include the following:
- Create policies aimed at improving social and economic situations for women.
- Help unemployed women find jobs to grant them a social circle, mental and physical activity, a sense of purpose, and higher self-esteem. With high divorce rates, smaller families and disrupted avenues of support, it’s more important today than ever for women to have the support and social circle employment provides.
- Implement efforts to curb smoking among less-educated women by focusing on the positives of not smoking rather than simply raising cigarette taxes.