, Volume 54, Issue 3, pp 1175–1202 | Cite as

The Contribution of Drug Overdose to Educational Gradients in Life Expectancy in the United States, 1992–2011

  • Jessica Y. Ho


Since the mid-1990s, the United States has witnessed a dramatic rise in drug overdose mortality. Educational gradients in life expectancy widened over the same period, and drug overdose likely plays a role in this widening, particularly for non-Hispanic whites. The contemporary drug epidemic is distinctive in terms of its scope, the nature of the substances involved, and its geographic patterning, which influence how it impacts different education groups. I use vital statistics and National Health Interview Survey data to examine the contribution of drug overdose to educational gradients in life expectancy from 1992–2011. I find that over this period, years of life lost due to drug overdose increased for all education groups and for both males and females. The contribution of drug overdose to educational gradients in life expectancy has increased over time and is greater for non-Hispanic whites than for the population as a whole. Drug overdose accounts for a sizable proportion of the increases in educational gradients in life expectancy, particularly at the prime adult ages (ages 30–60), where it accounts for 25 % to 100 % of the widening in educational gradients between 1992 and 2011. Drug overdose mortality has increased more rapidly for females than for males, leading to a gender convergence. These findings shed light on the processes driving recent changes in educational gradients in life expectancy and suggest that effective measures to address the drug overdose epidemic should take into account its differential burden across education groups.


Life expectancy Educational gradients Drug overdose 



The author thanks Arun Hendi for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article. The author is grateful to the National Center for Health Statistics for the use of the restricted-use microdata files for mortality. This research was supported in part by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD) of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number K99 HD083519.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Duke Population Research Institute and Sanford School of Public PolicyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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