According to a new study published in the August issue of the journal Health Affairs, people in the United States with less than a high school education have life expectancies comparable to adults in the 1950s and 1960s.
S. Jay Olshansky, professor of epidemiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health, explained:
"The most highly educated white men live about 14 years longer than the least educated black men. The least educated black women live about 10 years less than the most educated white women."
The team analyzed life expectancy by race, sex, and education and also analyzed trends in disparities from 1990-2008. The study was supported by The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on an Aging Society.
Olshansky said: "Over the last couple of decades, almost all longevity boats have risen, but there have been some subgroups that have had a drop in life expectancy.
It's as if Americans with the least education are living in a time warp. The least educated black men are living in 1954, black women in 1962, white women in 1964, and white men in 1972."
The researchers also found that life expectancy for white women with less than 12 years of education was 5 years less than in 1990 - a reduction from age 78 to age 73. However, life expectancy for black women with under 12 years education is 74 years - a 1 year increase from 20 years ago.
According to the team, the least educated white women may be selecting more lethal behaviors, such as drug use, alcohol consumption and smoking, while black women are experiencing high levels of obesity, which can adversely affect health.
"There are essentially two America's. One subgroup of the population is highly educated, doing well, and they are experiencing a dramatic increase in life expectancy. Another subgroup of the population is less educated, doing very poorly, and experiencing a drop or only modest increases in life expectancy."
They highlight that education and socioeconomic status are vital factors that influence variations in life expectancy. In addition, they note that lifelong education is a vital way to address these large disparities.
Olshansky said: "We must find a way to bring these subgroups of the population back into the present."
Written by Grace Rattue