Research Finds High School Dropouts’ Life Expectancy Has Fallen Four Years
San Francisco, CA -- (SBWIRE) -- 10/09/2012 -- Recent Findings are showing, against longterm past trends, life expectancy is dropping for the least educated white Americans. Examining mortality data for Americans lacking a high school degree, the new study finds whites in this group overall saw a four-year drop in their life expectancy.
The sharpest drop among Americans lacking a high school degree came for white women, whose life expectancy dropped by five years between 1990 and 2008. By the end of 2008, the life expectancy of black women without high school diplomas had caught up with and passed white women with the same level of education, according to the study’s lead author, S. Jay Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
The new study, published in the journal Health Affairs and funded by the MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society, looked separately at data for persons who don’t finish high school, while earlier studies have usually lumped together with high school graduates. After breaking out the non-graduates, the study calculated life expectancy for white women who didn’t finish high school at 73.5 years; white women college graduates can expect to live more than 10 years longer, to 83.9 years on average.
White men without a high school diploma also saw their life expectancy drop, by three years. By 2008, their life expectancy had fallen to 67.5 years, compared to 80.4 years for college-educated white men. Blacks and Hispanics with the same level of education saw life expectancy gains, although blacks still don’t live as long as whites, and both groups trail US Hispanics in life expectancy.
Some observers commented that the drop may appear unusually large, because of the declining share of the population without a high school education, about 12 percent, down from 22 percent in 1990, according to the Census Bureau. Professor Olshansky agreed that the numbers of non-high school graduates had shrunk, but maintained that his study still revealed a serious problem. “The good news is that there are fewer people in this group,” he said. “The bad news is that those who are in it are dying more quickly.”
Researchers could not pinpoint the precise cause of the life expectancy decline for the least-educated white Americans, but said that possible factors included rising obesity, prescription drug overdoses, lack of health insurance (and higher smoking rates for white women.
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