More education can lead to a longer life

Published February 2, 2024

Key takeaways:

  • Every year of education counts towards a longer life. Completing primary education reduces the risk of dying by 13% compared to no education. 
  • Education matters at all ages. While there is a greater effect on longevity for younger people, the impact can also be felt when older people increase their education.

Ver en Español 

Regarder en français

Read the research

How does education help reduce the risk of mortality?

One key finding emerging from our study is that every year of education counts in terms of reducing the risk of mortality. Completing primary education has a risk reduction of dying by 13% compared to no education.

Completion of secondary education has a risk reduction of 25%, and it jumps up to 34% if a person finishes higher education. More importantly, I think it's also the fact that education matters at all ages. What this means is, despite finding a stronger effect in younger ages, it still retains a significant effect also in older ones. More education essentially lands better working conditions, higher income, better access to health care, and a stronger sense of control over our lives.

Where was the research drawn from?

This study is a systematic review of studies published in any world language in six major journal databases over the last 40 years. We were able to identify over 600 studies on the topic. To our knowledge this is the most extensive review ever completed, although there is always room to improve and one way to build on it would be to identify potential country reports from countries that were not covered in our study and those reports were never actually published as academic articles.

Are there differences between high-income and middle/low-income countries?

Education has a universal protective effect worldwide. What does this mean is that, at every stage of socioeconomic development, more education leads to a reduction of risk of premature mortality.

Unfortunately, we do see far fewer studies being published from low and middle-income countries, and future research should focus in reducing this difference.

How does not going to school compare to drinking and smoking?

Not going to school is as bad for your health as drinking five or more alcoholic drinks per day or smoking ten cigarettes per day for ten years. Education, in essence, provides a very strong protection to economic, social, health stressors that is comparable to the healthiest lifestyle one could lead.

How should inequalities globally in education be addressed?

Countries need to increase their investment in education in order to increase access and quality, and to reach the Sustainable Development Goal by 2030. Such investment will not only pay off with a more qualified workforce, higher labor productivity, and strengthen social cohesion, but according to our study, it will also create a healthier population in the next decades. 


Scientific Publication

Effects of education on adult mortality