“The beautiful thing about learning is that no one can take it away from you” – B. B. King
This blog series covers the five categories of Social Determinants of Health (SDoH), as defined by Healthy People 2030. As a reminder, they are: 1) our neighborhoods and built environments, 2) health and health care, 3) social and community context, 4) education, and 5) economic stability.1 In this post, I’d like to focus on the impact that education and economic stability can have on one another, and in turn, our health outcomes.
Education has been described as “the single most important modifiable social determinant of health.”2 The notion that education ties into a person’s overall economic stability and health is well researched and corroborated. It’s been proven that people with higher levels of education live longer and are overall healthier and happier than those without.3
Education is also tied to life expectancy. Research out of Princeton has shown that Americans with a college degree tend to live longer than those without. They analyzed nearly 50 million death certificate records from 1990 – 2018 to understand how likely a 25-year-old would be to reach the age of 75. They found that those with a college degree lived, on average, three years longer.4 A longitudinal study from Yale School of Medicine found that of the individuals they tracked over 30 years, “3.5% of black subjects and 13.2% of white subjects with a high school degree or less died during the course of the study [whereas only] 5.9% of black subjects and 4.3% of whites with college degrees had died.”5
Why is that, and what is it about having an education that makes us live longer and healthier?
According to the Fundamental Cause Theory, education and other social factors (read SDoH) are central to our health because they “determine access to a multitude of material and non-material resources such as income, safe neighborhoods, or healthier lifestyles, all of which protect or enhance health.”2 Another theory, the Human Capital Theory, links education directly to increased economic stability by positing that education is an “investment that yields returns via increased productivity.”2
In essence, having a higher level of education leads to increased access to things that positively impact our health. It means more knowledge, more skills, and more tools to succeed. With this, comes greater opportunities for employment and career growth. Earning a higher salary means economic stability for you, your family, and your family’s future. Together, education and economic stability give you the ability to live in a nicer and safer neighborhood, possibly with less noise and air pollution. They allow you to spend more on groceries and healthy habits like diet and exercise, and give you the freedom and ability to focus more on your health so that you can live a longer, healthier, and happier life. The benefits of education and economic stability don’t just end with you, either. Their impacts are felt for generations to come.