Population Research and Policy Review

, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 501–525 | Cite as

Educational Attainment and Mortality in the United States: Effects of Degrees, Years of Schooling, and Certification

  • Elizabeth M. Lawrence
  • Richard G. Rogers
  • Anna Zajacova


Researchers have extensively documented a strong and consistent education gradient for mortality, with more highly educated individuals living longer than those with less education. This study contributes to our understanding of the education–mortality relationship by determining the effects of years of education and degree attainment on mortality, and by including non-degree certification, an important but understudied dimension of educational attainment. We use data from the mortality-linked restricted-use files of the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) sample (N = 9821) and Cox proportional hazards models to estimate mortality risk among U.S. adults. Results indicate that more advanced degrees and additional years of education are associated with reduced mortality risk in separate models, but when included simultaneously, only degrees remain influential. Among individuals who have earned a high school diploma only, additional years of schooling (beyond 12) and vocational school certification (or similar accreditation) are both independently associated with reduced risks of death. Degrees appear to be most important for increasing longevity; the findings also suggest that any educational experience can be beneficial. Future research in health and mortality should consider including educational measures beyond a single variable for educational attainment.


Mortality Education Degrees Certification PSID United States 



We thank the Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD-funded University of Colorado Population Center (grant P2C HD066613), the University of Colorado Boulder Sociology Department for administrative and computing support, the Panel Study of Income Dynamics (PSID) for providing access to the restricted-use data files, the Population Research Training grant (T32 HD007168), the Population Research Infrastructure Program (P2C HD050924) awarded to the Carolina Population Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Nancy Mann for editorial support on an earlier version of this manuscript. An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the annual Population Association of American meeting, and we thank Jennifer K. Montez for her insightful comments as discussant. We are grateful for the feedback from three anonymous reviewers. The collection of the PSID data used in this study was partly supported by the National Institutes of Health under grant number R01 HD069609 and the National Science Foundation under award number 1157698. The content of this manuscript is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of NIH, NICHD, or PSID.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Elizabeth M. Lawrence
    • 1
  • Richard G. Rogers
    • 2
  • Anna Zajacova
    • 3
  1. 1.Carolina Population CenterUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  2. 2.Department of Sociology and Population ProgramUniversity of Colorado BoulderBoulderUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUniversity of WyomingLaramieUSA

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