When discussing mortality differences in the United States, one factor that is mentioned is the effect of educational attainment (Brown et al. 2012; Denney et al. 2010; Hummer et al. 2011; Masters et al. 2012; Miech et al. 2011; Montez et al. 2012; Rogers et al. 2010). Educational attainment is often linked to a variety of aspects of the life course experience (Denney et al. 2010, Brown et al. 2012). There continues to be discussion regarding how much influence educational attainment has on mortality and at what point educational attainment has a stronger role in mortality versus other factors in a person’s life (Denney et al. 2010; Montez et al. 2012). The purpose of this response paper is to discuss the impact of educational attainment on mortality as an explanation for disparities. This is important in order to get a clearer picture of the relationship between educational attainment and mortality (Brown et al. 2012, Miech et al. 2011). Educational attainment is important to measure because it highlights increasing educational inequality. Educational attainment provides a picture of overall social standing when measuring socioeconomic determinants (Brown et al. 2012; Hummer et al. 2011; Montez et al. 2012). The impact of educational inequality on mortality continues to be critical in the discussion of health in the United States particularly when we talk about underserved populations. Educational attainment is often looked upon as one of the great equalizers in modern society. As a result, educational attainment will continue to be an area of research in the study of mortality differentials.
Although preventative programs and initiatives are promoted and implemented that seek to reduce inequality and mortality in low socioeconomic groups, research showed that educational attainment continued to persist (Miech et al. 2011; Everett et al. 2013). As a result, to help explain the causal mechanisms, Link and Phelan’s theory of fundamental causes was implemented in order to provide a more comprehensive explanation for these inequalities. Research also showed that educational attainment affects critical aspects of life such as health outcomes, potential earnings, and even social standing (Everett et al 2013; Masters et al. 2012). Much of the research on educational attainment and adult mortality in the U.S. has focused on the Non-Hispanic White and Non-Hispanic Black populations (Montez et al. 2012; Masters et al. 2012). When looking at mortality, the research provides insight into the reason for viewing mortality from a comprehensive framework. This is also one reason why Link and Phelan’s fundamental cause theory can be applied to any group regardless of race (Miech et al. 2011; Everett et al. 2013).
Many of the studies on educational attainment and mortality in the U.S. focus on adult mortality (Denney et al. 2010; Masters et al. 2012; Montez et al. 2012). There could also be benefit to looking at other age cohorts in order to have a better picture of young adults and early stage adulthood. This would provide insight into the health risks for younger ages and could also help to inform health and education policy that would be beneficial for younger ages.
Although much of the research on educational attainment and U.S. adult mortality highlights worse health outcomes for those with less education(less than a HS diploma), this research does not indicate the life experiences that these cohorts lived through which impacted their ability to obtain more education (Montez et al. 2012; Rogers et al. 2010; Everett et al. 2013). By looking solely at education attainment, the research indicates that policy is needed in order to reduce these dispairities. When discussing educational inequality, many of the studies mention that disparities often lead to new health outcomes (Denney et al. 2010; Everett et al. 2013). Looking at earlier cohorts would indicate new issues that have not been seen by previous cohorts (increase in war, increase in poverty, and increase in lack of health insurance, increase in poor living environments). When looking at the impact of these other factors on educational attainment or lack of educational attainment, this will include a better understanding of the significance of certain health outcomes over others.
Previous research indicating the impact of educational attainment on mortality is not surprising, the widening inequalities along the line of educational attainment continue to be (Rogers et al 2010, Masters et al. 2012; Miech et al. 2011). Addressing the issues associated with educational inequality requires addressing economic inequality along with opportunity and access (Denney et al. 2010). Much of the research alludes to these factors influencing health but an argument can be made that these inequalities are presented before birth for younger cohorts and as a result, when addressed effectively can bring about a lessening of the educational inequality that so many populations who lack access can benefit from. When pathways to inequality are filled with resources to remove the stark deficit of need for at risk populations, there will be a greater propensity for improved health outcomes. This may also reduce the variety of poor health outcomes.


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