Explaining the Growing Education Gap in U.S. Adult Life Expectancy, 1990-2010

Isaac Sasson, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

As life expectancy at birth in the U.S. approaches eighty years of age, educational differentials in adult mortality are greater than ever. Low-educated Americans have shorter life expectancies than their college-educated counterparts and have recently suffered absolute declines in longevity. Using vital statistics data, this study decomposes those trends by age and cause-of-death for major educational attainment groups in the U.S. from 1990 to 2010. The findings reveal an education gradient in life years lost from all major causes of death. Among low-educated whites, life expectancy declined predominantly due to rise in external and smoking-related deaths. Mortality also increased among high-school educated whites under age 55, offsetting mortality reductions in old age. Evidently, large segments of the U.S. population are diverging from the classic health transition model and instead are undergoing a series of divergence and convergence sequences resulting from changes in social conditions, health technologies, and emerging mortality risks.

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Presented in Session 110: Social Disparities in Health