School Saves Lives: More Education Cuts Risk of Death Significantly

TRONDHEIM, Norway — Learning supports living. That’s what researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology are taking away from a new study. Scientists say learning saves lives across various demographics, including age, sex, and location. All in all, the study authors estimate each additional year of education lowers mortality risk by two percent.

Prior research has established that people with higher levels of schooling generally tend to live longer than others, but no study has figured out precisely why this is the case. Now, this latest work reveals people with six years of primary school have a 13-percent lower mortality risk. Additionally, graduating from secondary school led to a 25-percent mortality risk reduction, and 18 years of education lowered death risk by 34 percent.

The team also compared the impact of education to various other risk factors, including eating a healthy diet, smoking, and drinking too much alcohol, but the health outcome was still similar. For instance, the research team says the benefits of 18 years of education are comparable to eating the right amount of vegetables. Or, avoiding school one’s entire life is as bad for longevity as drinking five or more alcoholic drinks per day or smoking 10 cigarettes a day for a decade.

“Education is important in its own right, not just for its benefits on health, but now being able to quantify the magnitude of this benefit is a significant development,” says Dr. Terje Andreas Eikemo, study co-author and head of Centre for Global Health Inequalities Research (CHAIN) at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), in a media release.

Students at college graduation, dean gives diplomas to graduates
The study authors estimate each additional year of education lowers mortality risk by 2 percent. (© michaeljung –

While the benefits of education are greatest and perhaps more obvious among the young, people older than 50 and even as old as 70 still stand to benefit from the protective effects of education. Researchers did not see a significant difference in the effects of education between nations displaying different stages of development. In other words, more education is just as helpful in a poor country as it is in a rich nation.

“We need to increase social investments to enable access to better and more education around the globe to stop the persistent inequalities that are costing lives,” adds Mirza Balaj, co-lead author and postdoctoral fellow at NTNU’s Department of Sociology and Political Science. “More education leads to better employment and higher income, better access to healthcare, and helps us take care of our own health. Highly educated people also tend to develop a larger set of social and psychological resources that contribute to their health and the length of their lives.”

“Closing the education gap means closing the mortality gap, and we need to interrupt the cycle of poverty and preventable deaths with the help of international commitment,” explains Claire Henson, co-lead author and researcher at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. “In order to reduce inequalities in mortality, it’s important to invest in areas that promote people’s opportunities to get an education. This can have a positive effect on population health in all countries.”

This project was massive in scope, and the largest of its kind to date. Researchers analyzed data pertaining to 59 countries spanning more than 10,000 data points collected from over 600 published articles. Most of the reviewed reports originated from high-income settings. This highlights the urgent need for more studies focusing on low and middle-income countries, especially among sub-Saharan and North African countries where data is scarce.

“Our focus now should be on regions of the world where we know access to schooling is low, and where there is also limited research on education as a determinant of health,” concludes Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou, co-author and professor at IHME.

The study is published in The Lancet Public Health.

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About the Author

John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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