Living Healthier and Longer: A Life Course Perspective on Education and Health

  • Monica Kirkpatrick JohnsonEmail author
  • Jeremy Staff
  • John E. Schulenberg
  • Megan E. Patrick
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


Decades of research documents a strong and enduring relationship between educational attainment and health and longevity. Our chapter begins by briefly reviewing the theoretical explanations for this important social fact and highlighting key ways in which the life course perspective has fundamentally shaped the research questions and debates in the area. From there we outline three directions in which we argue further application of the life course perspective would benefit our understanding: (1) merging selection and causal effect processes into a long-term, multigenerational view; (2) linking health across the years in which people largely achieve their educations, and the short-term processes involved, with longer-term processes and mid- to late-life health outcomes; and (3) assessing historical trends in the mediating mechanisms and their implications for health disparities.


Health Longevity Mortality Education College Cohort Life-long development 


  1. Amato, P. R., & Kane, J. B. (2011). Life-course pathways and the psychosocial adjustment of young adult women. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73, 279–295. doi: 10.1111/j.1741-3737.2010.00804.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Arum, R., & Roksa, J. (2011). Academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bachman, J. G., O’Malley, P. M., Schulenberg, J. E., Johnston, L. D., Freedman-Doan, P., & Messersmith, E. E. (2008). The education-drug use connection: How successes and failures in school relate to adolescent smoking, drinking, drug use, and delinquency. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates/Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
  4. Bachman, J. G., Staff, J., O’Malley, P., Schulenberg, J. E., & Freedman-Doan, P. (2011). Student work intensity: New evidence on links to educational attainment and problem behaviors. Developmental Psychology, 47, 344–363.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bachman, J. G., Staff, J., O’Malley, P., & Freedman-Doan, P. (2013). Race-ethnicity and socioeconomic status moderate how student paid work intensity is related to scholastic performance and substance use. Developmental Psychology, 49, 2125–2134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baker, D. P., Leon, J., Smith Greenaway, E. G., Collins, J., & Movit, M. (2011). The education effect on population health: A reassessment. Population and Development Review, 37, 307–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Baker, D. P., Salinas, D., & Eslinger, P. J. (2012). An envisioned bridge: Schooling as a neurocognitive developmental institution. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 2S, S6–S17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Bauldry, S., Shanahan, M. J., Boardman, J. D., Miech, R. A., & Macmillan, R. (2012). A life course model of self-rated health through adolescence and young adulthood. Social Science & Medicine, 75, 1311–1320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Baum, S., Ma, J., & Payea, K. (2010). Education pays, 2010: The benefits of higher education for individuals and society. Washington, DC: The College Board.Google Scholar
  10. Beckett, M. (2000). Converging health inequalities in later life—An artifact of mortality selection? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 41, 106–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Behrman, J. R., Kohler, H., Jensen, V. M., Pedersen, D., Petersen, I., Bingley, P., & Christensen, K. (2011). Does more schooling reduce hospitalization and delay mortality? New evidence based on Danish twins. Demography, 48, 1347–1375.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Brand, J. E., & Xie, Y. (2010). Who benefits most from college? Evidence for negative selection in heterogeneous economic returns to higher education. American Sociological Review, 75(2), 273–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Breen, R., & Salazar, L. (2011). Educational assortative mating and earnings inequality in the United States. American Journal of Sociology, 117, 808–843.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Carter, A. C., Brandon, K. O., & Goldman, M. S. (2010). The college and noncollege experience: A review of the factors that influence drinking behavior in young adulthood. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 71, 742–750.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chen, P., & Jacobson, K. C. (2013). Longitudinal relationships between college education and patterns of heavy drinking: A comparison between Caucasians and African-Americans. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53, 356–362.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chen, C. M., Dufour, M. C., & Yi, H. (2004). Alcohol consumption among young adults ages 18–24 in the United States: Results from the 2001–2002 NESARC survey. Alcohol Research & Health, 28, 269–280.Google Scholar
  17. Côté, J. E., & Allahar, A. (2011). Lowering higher education: The rise of corporate universities and the fall of liberal education. Buffalo: University of Toronto Press.Google Scholar
  18. Crosnoe, R. (2007). Gender, obesity, and education. Sociology of Education, 80, 241–260.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Crosnoe, R. (2011). Fitting in, standing out: Navigating the social challenges of high school to get an education. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cutler, D. M., & Lleras-Muney, A. (2010). Understanding differences in health behaviors by education. Journal of Health Economics, 29(1), 1–28. doi: 10.1016/j.jhealeco.2009.10.003.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Day, J. C., & Newburger, E. C. (2002). The big payoff: educational attainment and synthetic estimates of work-life earnings (Current population reports pp. 23–210). Washington, DC: U.S. Census Bureau U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration.Google Scholar
  22. Dupre, M. E. (2007). Educational differences in age-related patterns of disease: Reconsidering the cumulative disadvantage and age-as-leveler hypotheses. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 48, 1–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Eaton, D. K., Kann, L., Okoro, C. A., & Collins, J. (2007). Selected health status indicators and behaviors of young adults, United States—2003. American Journal of Health Education, 38, 66–75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Eide, E. R., & Showalter, M. H. (2011). Estimating the relation between health and education: What do we know and what do we need to know? Economics of Education Review, 30, 778–791.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Elder, G. H. (1998). The life course and human development. In R. M. Lerner (Ed.), Handbook of child psychology, volume 1: Theoretical models of human development (pp. 939–991). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  26. Elder, G. H., Johnson, M. K., & Crosnoe, R. (2003). The emergence and development of life course theory. In J. T. Mortimer & M. J. Shanahan (Eds.), Handbook of the life course (pp. 3–19). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Farkas, G. (2011). Book review of academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses, by R. Arum and J. Roksa. American Journal of Sociology, 117, 1000–1002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Fujiwara, T., & Kawachi, I. (2009). Is education causally related to better health? A twin fixed-effect study in the USA. International Journal of Epidemiology, 38, 1310–1322.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. George, L. K. (2003). Life course research: Achievements and potential. In J. T. Mortimer & M. J. Shanahan (Eds.), Handbook of the life course (pp. 671–680). New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Glied, S., & Lleras-Muney, A. (2008). Technological innovation and inequality in health. Demography, 45(3), 741–761.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Goesling, B. (2007). The rising significance of education for health? Social Forces, 85, 1621–1644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Goldin, C. D., & Katz, L. F. (2008). The race between technology and education. Cambridge: Harvard.Google Scholar
  33. Goldstein, J. R., & Kenney, C. T. (2001). Marriage delayed or marriage forgone? New cohort forecasts of first marriage for U.S. women. American Sociological Review, 66(4), 506–519. doi: 10.2307/3088920.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Goyette, K. A. (2008). College for some to college for all: Social background, occupational expectations, and educational expectations over time. Social Science Research, 37(2), 461–484.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Grusky, D. B., Western, B., & Wimer, C. (2011). The great recession. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  36. Haas, S. A., & Fosse, N. (2008). Health and the educational attainment of adolescents: Evidence from the NLSY97. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 49(2), 178–192.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hayward, M. D., & Gorman, B. K. (2004). The long arm of childhood: The influence of early-life social conditions on men’s mortality. Demography, 41, 87–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Herd, P. (2006). Do functional health inequalities decrease in old age? Educational status and functional decline among the 1931–1941 birth cohort. Research on Aging, 28, 375–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Herd, P. (2010). Education and health in late-life among high school graduates: Cognitive versus psychological aspects of human capital. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 51(4), 478–496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Herd, P., Goesling, B., & House, J. S. (2007). Socioeconomic position and health: The differential effects of education versus income on the onset versus progression of health problems. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 48, 223–238.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. House, J. S., Lepkowski, J. M., Kinney, A. M., Mero, R. P., Kessler, R. C., & Herzog, A. R. (1994). The social stratification of aging and health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 213–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Hout, M. (2012). Social and economic returns to college education in the United States. Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 327–400.Google Scholar
  43. Institute of Medicine. (2012). How far have we come in reducing health disparities?: Progress since 2000: Workshop summary. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  44. Institute of Medicine. (2014). Investing in the health and well-being of young adults. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  45. Jackson, M. I. (2009). Understanding links between adolescent health and educational attainment. Demography, 46, 671–694.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Miech, R. A. (2014a). Monitoring the future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2013: Volume I, secondary school students. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  47. Johnston, L. D., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., Schulenberg, J. E., & Miech, R. A. (2014b). Monitoring the future national survey results on drug use, 1975–2013: Volume 2, college students and adults ages 19–55. Ann Arbor: Institute for Social Research, The University of Michigan.Google Scholar
  48. Kalleberg, A. L. (2011). Good jobs, bad jobs: The rise of polarized and precarious employment systems in the United States, 1970s to 2000s. New York: Russell Sage.Google Scholar
  49. Lanza, S. T., & Collins, L. M. (2006). A mixture model of discontinuous development in heavy drinking from ages 18 to 30: The role of college enrollment. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67(4), 552–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Lauderdale, D. S. (2001). Education and survival: Birth cohort, period, and age effects. Demography, 36(4), 551–561.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Leigh, J. P., & Dhir, R. (1997). Schooling and frailty among seniors. Economics of Education Review, 16, 45–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Link, B. G., & Phelan, J. C. (1995). Social conditions as fundamental causes of disease. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35 (Extra Issue), 80–94.Google Scholar
  53. Link, B. G., Phelan, J. C., Miech, R., & Westin, E. L. (2008). The resources that matter: Fundamental social causes of health disparities and the challenge of intelligence. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 49, 72–91.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Liu, S. Y., Buka, S. L., Linkletter, C. D., Kawachi, I., Kubzansky, L., & Loucks, E. B. (2011). The association between blood pressure and years of schooling versus educational credentials: Test of the sheepskin effect. Annals of Epidemiology, 21, 128–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Lynch, S. M. (2003). Cohort and life course patterns in the relationship between education and health: A hierarchical approach. Demography, 40(2), 309–331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Martin, S. P. (n.d.). Growing evidence for a ‘divorce divide’? Education and marital rates in the U.S. since the 1970s (Working Paper). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  57. Masters, R. K., Hummer, R. A., & Powers, D. A. (2012). Educational differences in U.S. adult mortality: A cohort perspective. American Sociological Review, 77(4), 548–572.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. McLanahan, S. (2004). Diverging destinies: How children fare under the second demographic transition. Demography, 41, 607–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Miech, R., Shanahan, M. J., Boardman, J., & Bauldry, S. (2015). The sequencing of a college degree during the transition to adulthood: Implications for obesity. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 56(2), 281–95. Google Scholar
  60. Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (2003). Education, social status, and health. Hawthorne: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  61. Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (2005). Education, cumulative advantage, and health. Ageing International, 30, 27–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Mirowsky, J., & Ross, C. E. (2008). Education and self-rated health: Cumulative advantage and its rising importance. Research on Aging, 30, 93–122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Montez, J. K., Hummer, R. A., Hayward, M. D., Woo, H., & Rogers, R. G. (2011). Trends in the educational gradient of U.S. adult mortality from 1986 through 2006 by race, gender and age group. Research on Aging, 33, 145–171.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Montez, J. K., Hummer, R. A., & Hayward, M. D. (2012). Educational attainment and adult mortality in the United States: A systematic analysis of functional form. Demography, 49, 315–336.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Palloni, A. (2006). Reproducing inequalities: Luck, wallets, and the enduring effects of childhood health. Demography, 43, 587–615.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Pampel, F. C., Krueger, P. M., & Denney, J. T. (2010). Socioeconomic disparities in health behaviors. Annual Review of Sociology, 36, 349–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How college affects students: Volume 2. A third decade of research. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  68. Patrick, M. E., Wightman, P., Schoeni, R. F., & Schulenberg, J. E. (2012). Socioeconomic status and substance use among young adults: A comparison across constructs and drugs. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 73, 772–782.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Patrick, M. E., Schulenberg, J. E., & O’Malley, P. M. (2013). High school substance use as a predictor of college attendance, completion, and dropout: a national multi-cohort longitudinal study. Youth & Society. NIHMSID528548. doi: 10.1177/0044118x13508961
  70. Professor X. (2011). In the basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an accidental academic. New York: Penguin.Google Scholar
  71. Qui, H., Bures, R., & Shehan, C. L. (2012). The inconsistent mediating effects of psychosocial work characteristics on the education-health relationship. Social Science & Medicine, 75, 1539–1546.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Rosenbaum, J. E. (2011). The complexities of college for all: Beyond fairy-tale dreams. Sociology of Education, 84(2), 113–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Rosenbaum, J. (2012). Degrees of health disparities: Health status disparities between young adults with high school diplomas, sub-Baccalaureate degrees, and Baccalaureate degrees. Health Services and Outcomes Research Methodology, 12(2), 156–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Ross, C. E., & Mirowsky, J. (1999). Refining the association between education and health: The effects of quantity, credential, and selectivity. Demography, 36, 445–460.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Ross, C. E., & Mirowsky, J. (2006). Sex differences in the effect of education on depression: Resource multiplication or resource substitution. Social Science & Medicine, 63, 1400–1413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Ross, C. E., & Mirowsky, J. (2010a). Why education is the key to socioeconomic differentials in health. In C. E. Bird, P. Conrad, A. M. Fremont, & S. Timmermans (Eds.), The handbook of medical sociology. Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press.Google Scholar
  77. Ross, C. E., & Mirowsky, J. (2010b). Gender and the health benefits of education. The Sociological Quarterly, 51, 1–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Ross, C. E., & Mirowsky, J. (2011). The interaction of personal and parental education on health. Social Science & Medicine, 72, 521–599.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Ross, C. E., & Wu, C. (1995). The links between education and health. American Sociological Review, 60, 719–745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Ross, C. E., Masters, R., & Hummer, R. A. (2012). Education and the gender gaps in health and mortality. Demography, 49, 1157–1183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Schafer, M. H., Wilkinson, L., & Ferraro, K. (2013). Childhood (mis)fortune, educational attainment, and adult health: Contingent benefits of a college degree. Social Forces, 93, 1007–1034. Google Scholar
  82. Scharoun-Lee, M., Gordon-Larsen, P., Adair, L. S., Popkin, B. M., Kaufmann, J. S., & Suchindran, C. M. (2011). Intergenerational profiles of socioeconomic disadvantage and obesity during the transition to adulthood. Demography, 48, 625–651.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Schnittker, J. (2004). Education and the changing shape of the income gradient in health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 45, 286–305.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Schulenberg, J. E. (2006). Understanding the multiple contexts of adolescent risky behavior and positive development: Advances and future directions. Applied Developmental Science, 10, 107–113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Schulenberg, J. E., & Maggs, J. L. (2002). A developmental perspective on alcohol use and heavy drinking during adolescence and the transition to young adulthood. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. Supplement, 14, 54–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Schulenberg, J. E., & Patrick, M. E. (2012). Historical and developmental patterns of alcohol and drug use among college students: Framing the problem. In H. R. White & D. Rabiner (Eds.), College drinking and drug use (pp. 13–35). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  87. Schulenberg, J., O’Malley, P. M., Bachman, J. G., & Johnston, L. D. (2005). Early adult transitions and their relation to well-being and substance use. In R. A. Settersten, F. F. Furstenberg, & R. G. Rumbaut (Eds.), On the frontier of adulthood: Theory, research, and public policy (pp. 417–453). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Siennick, S. E., & Staff, J. (2008). Explaining the educational deficits of delinquent youths. Criminology, 46, 609–636.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Snyder, T. D., & Dillow, S. A. (2012). Digest of education statistics 2011 (NCES 2012–001). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.Google Scholar
  90. Staff, J., Schulenberg, J. E., Maslowsky, J., Bachman, J. G., O’Malley, P. M., Maggs, J. L., & Johnston, L. D. (2010). Substance use changes and social role transitions: Proximal developmental effects on ongoing trajectories from late adolescence through early adulthood. Development and Psychopathology, 22, 917–932.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Thoits, P. A. (1995). Stress, coping, and social support processes: Where are we? What next? Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 35, 53–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Thoits, P. A. (2011). Mechanisms linking social ties and support to physical and mental health. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 52, 145–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  93. Vuolo, M., Staff, J., & Mortimer, J. T. (2012). Weathering the great recession: Psychological and behavioral trajectories in the transition from school to work. Developmental Psychology, 48, 1759–1773.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  94. Wheaton, B., & Clarke, P. (2003). Space meets time: Integrating temporal and contextual influences on mental health in early adulthood. American Sociological Review, 68, 680–706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. White, H., McMorris, B. J., Catalano, R. F., Fleming, C. B., Haggerty, K. P., & Abbott, R. D. (2006). Increases in alcohol and marijuana use during the transition out of high school into emerging adulthood: The effects of leaving home, going to college, and high school protective factors. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67, 810–822.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Woolf, S. H., & Aron, L. (2013). U.S. health in international perspective: Shorter lives, poorer health. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.Google Scholar
  97. Yang, Y. (2008). Social inequalities in happiness in the United States, 1972–2004: An age-period-cohort analysis. American Sociological Review, 73, 204–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  98. Zajacova, A., Rogers, R. G., & Johnson-Lawrence, V. (2012). Glitch in the gradient: Additional education does not uniformly equal better health. Social Science & Medicine, 75(11), 2007–2012. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2012.07.036.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Zheng, H., Yang, Y., & Land, K. C. (2011). Variance function regression in hierarchical age-period-cohort models: Applications to the study of self-reported health. American Sociological Review, 76(6), 955–983.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jeremy Staff
    • 2
  • John E. Schulenberg
    • 3
  • Megan E. Patrick
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of SociologyWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  2. 2.The Pennsylvania State UniversityState CollegeUSA
  3. 3.University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA

Personalised recommendations