Educational Differences in U.S. Adult Mortality: A Cohort Perspective Masters,Hummer,and Powers (2012)

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Masters, Hummer, and Powers (2012) focus on the various causes of mortality reductions. Previous research focused on period perspectives to explain mortality. With so much focus placed on period perspectives, there is a concern that effects were not correctly attributed. In this study, Masters, Hummer, and Powers (2012) analyze how various effects vary in educational attainment. This is done by specifically looking at fundamental cause theory, the life course perspective, and the principle of cohort differences in aging. When looking at the relationship between education and mortality, previous research indicates that educational differences in mortality were seen in younger ages compared to older. There were also larger differences between genders (especially for women).

The authors main hypotheses are 1) Educational differences in U.S. adult mortality are characteristic of all age groups once period and cohort effects are accounted for 2) The educational gap in U.S. adult mortality risk widened between 1986 and 2006 3) The educational gap in U.S. adult mortality is widening across birth cohorts rather than across time periods 4) Cohort changes in educational disparities in adult all-cause mortality are stronger in the White population than in the Black population 5) Educational differences in heart disease and lung cancer mortality are larger and widening across cohorts, more so than educational differences in mortality from unpreventable cancers.

This study used data from the National Health Interview Surveys (NHIS) 1986-2004 which was linked to follow up mortality information. The data was analyzed using hierarchical age period cohort (HAPC) models for the White mortality samples. While hierarchical Bayesian models using Gibbs sampling were estimated for cause specific and Black mortality samples.

The results of the study were comparable to previous research. The results of the first hypothesis testing were that the point estimates of all-cause logged mortality rates for less than high school did not converge with the point estimates of all-cause mortality rates for the more than high school population. This supports the first hypothesis. The results were not the same for the Black population and as a result the first hypothesis was not supported. The results of the second, third, and fourth hypothesis testing led the authors to arrive at three explanations. 1) cohort size variance in mortality is significantly and sizably larger than period variance 2) across all models, cohort variance is largest in the more than high school education groups and 3) race differences are evident in both of these patterns. These explanations supported hypothesis two, three, and four. For all groups except Black women, educational differences grew across birth cohorts between 1986 and 2006. Masters, Hummer, and Powers (2012) found that reductions in U.S. all-cause mortality were driven by cohort processes. They also found that the reductions in mortality risk were primed by educational attainment. Also, the way in which educational attainment differences were primed were a result of race and gender. Results from the fifth hypothesis testing indicate that the results were similar for men and women regarding educational attainment and mortality related to lung cancer and unpreventable cancers. These results were similar to findings of educational attainment and smoking.

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