The Contribution of Smoking to Educational Differences in U.S. Life Expectancy

Jessica Y. Ho, Duke University
Andrew Fenelon, Brown University

Researchers have documented widening educational gradients in mortality in the United States since the 1970s. While smoking has been proposed as a key explanation for this trend, no prior study has quantified the contribution of smoking to increasing education gaps in longevity. We estimate the contribution of smoking to educational gradients in mortality using data on white men and women aged 50 and above from the National Longitudinal Mortality Study (N=283,430; 68,644 deaths) and the National Health Interview Survey (N=584,811; 127,226 deaths) over five periods covering the 1980s to 2006. In each period, smoking makes an important contribution to education gaps in longevity for men and women. Smoking accounts for half the increase in the gap for women in the most recent period, but does not explain the widening gap for men. Addressing sources of greater initiation and continuation of smoking among the less educated may reduce mortality inequalities.

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Presented in Session 35: Smoking, Obesity, and Exercise