This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Monday, July 2, 2018

Health Disparities by State Mainly Reflect Different Levels of Education

I have blogged several times about the differences in health and life expectancy by state in the U.S. In a blog post about a year and half ago I highlighted the research of Professors Jennifer Montez of Syracuse University and Mark Hayward of UT, Austin. Their latest chapter in the story has just been posted on and it highlights the finding that the variability in health disparities around the U.S. are largely found among people at lower educational levels.
The researchers analysed extensive data on adults living in the US from two different surveys: the National Longitudinal Mortality Study and the American Community Survey. The researchers also collected data on the policies and characteristics of all US states. For example, they collected information on the states’ economic environment, income inequality, tobacco control policies, Medicaid coverage, and socio-political factors such as whether the state tends to vote for a Republican or Democratic presidential candidate, as well as characteristics of the states’ populations such as age, sex, race, ethnicity, educational levels. The data collected was then analysed in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the factors behind cross-state health disparities.
Drs Montez and Hayward found education level to be one of the strongest predictors of health and mortality rates among US residents. This is aligned with past research findings highlighting the impact of education on an individuals’ health. ‘In the United States, one of the best predictors of how healthy and long someone will live is their education level,’ says Dr Montez. ‘More years of schooling generally translate into better health and longer life.’
When I first saw this I jumped to the conclusion that it might be due to differing levels of access to health care. But the research suggests a more complicated relationship.
‘Education provides people with a large bucket of resources that they can use to create a healthy life,’ explains Dr Montez. ‘For example, people with more schooling tend to be employed in jobs they enjoy and that stimulate their minds, to marry and stay married, to have large and beneficial social networks, to feel in control of their life, and to engage in healthy behaviours like exercising and avoiding tobacco.’
The positive effects of education on health, therefore, go beyond those derived from generally higher salaries, such as access to more expensive medical services. While imparting field-specific knowledge or skills, education also teaches people how to navigate modern society and look after themselves as well as their families and friends. This tends to improve their health and wellbeing, while also opening a broader range of social and economic opportunities for these individuals.
This is important on-going research and we need to keep our eyes open for the next round of findings. 

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