In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in August, sociologists Mark Hayward of UT Austin and Isaac Sasson of Tel Aviv University examined the intersection of education, cause of death and life expectancy across gender and race.
Overall, life expectancy declined by an average of two months from 2010 to 2017. Though life expectancy increased among those with a college degree, it was counterbalanced by a decline for those without. The analysis suggests these educational differences could be linked to increased drug use in lower-educated populations.
For white men with a high school diploma or less, life expectancy declined by more than a year, from 74.52 to 73.47 years, compared with a 3.6 month decline among similarly educated black men, from 71.56 to 71.26 years. For white men with college degrees, life expectancy rose by 7 months, from 82.51 to 83.09 years, but did not change for black men.
Similarly, white women with a high school diploma or less lost more than a year in life expectancy, from 80.12 to 78.99 years, but those with a college degree gained about 9 months, from 85.47 to 86.25 years. For black women, life expectancy increased across all levels of education, though those who had a college degree experienced the highest average increase of 1 year and 8 months, from 82.2 to 83.89 years, across all groups.
In considering the effects of specific causes of death, the researchers found that the average years of life lost due to smoking, cancer and circulatory diseases decreased since 2010 for all groups. However, drug use contributed to an overall increase in the average years of life lost, predominately in lower-educated groups of white men and women.