School Death Puzzle

When Ken Lee looked at 367,101 folks followed over 11 years, he found (in Table 12) that richer folks consistently died less. But for education, the trend wasn’t as consistent:


Folks who graduate from high school die less than those who only start high school, those who graduate from college die even less, and those who have some grad school live even more. But, folks with no school at all do as well as college graduates! And compared with those who stop at three years of high school, those who get less school than three years of high school seem to suffer no health penalty – if anything they die less!  This fits with seeing higher mortality in states with more high school graduates, after controlling for college grads, but is odd. What gives?

Could this be a status effect, where those who didn’t buy into school as an ideal don’t mind that they didn’t get so much school?

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  • lewontin

    Beware scientism:

    It is, for example, all very well to say that genetic variation is responsible for 76 percent of the observed variation in adult height among American women while the remaining 24 percent is a consequence of differences in nutrition. The implication is that if all variation in nutrition were abolished then 24 percent of the observed height variation among individuals in the population in the next generation would disappear. To say, however, that 76 percent of Evelyn Fox Keller’s height was caused by her genes and 24 percent by her nutrition does not make sense. The nonsensical implication of trying to partition the causes of her individual height would be that if she never ate anything she would still be three quarters as tall as she is.

  • Buck Farmer

    Sounds like the anxiety-ridden middle…I don’t think of an undergraduate degree as guaranteeing one’s social class, but perhaps compared to a high school degree it does.

    Also, could be a community effect…people at the top and bottom have identifiable communities they can rely on for financial, emotional, etc. support. People in the middle are transitioning between communities.

    Could also be a jobs sector thing…high school education and some college might put you into the manufacturing sector, while no education could still go to the service sector and college-education gets you into management and the creative-types.

  • Adelene

    It occurs to me that people who drop out of high school after three years are probably choosing to do so on their own, once they turn 18 and can’t be forced to go, whereas people who drop out before then are probably dropping out for other reasons, or are smart enough to avoid being forced even though they legally can be.

    In other words, the people who dropped out after three years have too little tendency to follow the rules to get the rewards from doing so, but too much tendency to follow the rules to get the rewards from striking off in a different direction.

  • My guess would be that a large fraction of people below, say, age 50 with less than three years of high school are Hispanic immigrants. Immigrants, especially illegal ones, tend to be healthy because if you are bed-ridden, you stay home.

    Was Lee unable to identify Hispanics in his huge project. Did he just lump all non-blacks into Race: Other/White?

    • p.73 says “The age group is limited to that of standard working age people: 25 to 65 years of age. In addition, to minimize other possible external drivers of health, only respondents who are born in the U.S. are considered.”

      • UnclGhost

        Good to know. Without that information, I thought it was going to be something like kids who aren’t old enough for high school yet were skewing the data.

  • “Could this be a status effect, where those who didn’t buy into school as an ideal don’t mind that they didn’t get so much school?”

    In general, race/ethnicity is the place to start your inquiries than with fanciful psychological theories.

  • Evan

    Could a large portion of the no-schooling population be people who were home-schooled? I would guess that most kids who are home-schooled come for wealthier families than average. this could be an explanation for their higher mortality.

  • Could it be that most people in the USA with no education are Hispanics who live longer than non Hispanics on average.

  • There is a large literature on the “Hispanic” or “Latino” paradox, called a “paradox” simply because of the default expectation that health outcomes are correlated with education and income yet low income and uneducated Hispanics are by many metrics healthier than their white counterparts. Rather than speculate that Hispanics “stay at home,” as Steve Sailor does, it makes more sense to assume that these alleged paradoxes are due to lifestyle/cultural variables, especially once it becomes clear that the Hispanic advantage decreases with increasing assimilation into American culture and that Mexican-Americans are significantly healthier than are Puerto Rican Americans (SoCal Latin American women now have an average life expectancy that exceeds that of Japanese women, a stunning 86 years vs. the Japanese 83 years, according to this link, While there is ongoing controversy for the reasons why Latino American are healthier, given well-known associations between health and diet, exercise, religion, and community cohesion, it is not surprising that some matrix of Mexican-American cultural habits should be healthier than are those of Euro-Americans, on average. Of course, insofar as there is no necessary correlation between healthy habits, income, and education, it is a perverse manifestation of the pervasive academic belief in the deterministic power of socioeconomic status even to regard it as a “paradox” that Mexican-Americans might be healthier.

    • @Michael Strong
      But you need to consider genetic differences also. Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans are different racially. An interesting example that seems to be racially based is that Mexican Americans like Americans form east Asian descent have a much lower rates of multiple births than the decedents of Europeans and west Africans (one problem with this some of whites higher multiple births rates is due to fertility treatments) and infant mortality increases with multiple births.

  • An article by the ED of the Center for the Study of Latino Health at UCLA that makes specific claims for the cultural origins of superior Latino health,

    • @Michael thanks for the article I have my doubts about the difference being lifestyle rather than but it would be very interesting if it does turn out to be life style. It would be even more interesting if turns out to be the things mentioned in your linked article. I have long wondered what effect SS and Medicare have on family.

  • Douglas Knight

    How many kids get *no* years of elementary school? (0.7** says very few, let alone 0.7* and 0.8) Yes, their parents probably do not think highly of schooling, but they are probably weird in many other ways.

  • Jason

    First, people with zero years of education constitute a very small proportion of the total population. I’m sure that this is consistent in the study population. Therefore, any outliers would have a dramatic effect of the conglomerate risk ratio. Secondly, people with zero education also tend to come from religous groups that in addition to not educating there children traditionally, they have very strict diets, are more active, and don’t smoke or abuse alcohol.

  • It does not surprise me that no school is better than lots of school – people who dropped out of high school can be described as “Had their education cut short”, while people who didn’t go to school at all can be described as “Had a better education than if they’d gone to school”.

  • matt mcknight

    Maybe they are unemployed which is less dangerous than many jobs?