Trends in U.S. Life Expectancy Gradients: The Role of Changing Educational Composition

Arun S. Hendi, University of Pennsylvania

Recent studies have found that educational gradients in life expectancy have widened in the United States over the past two decades. In addition, some findings suggest that life expectancy among the least educated non-Hispanic whites has actually declined. I point out that these prior estimates suffer from dual data source bias and I use a more appropriate dataset and measurement strategy to obtain accurate estimates. While life expectancy differentials by education have widened, prior estimates exaggerate the extent of this widening. Life expectancy among the least educated white men has actually increased, and the decline in life expectancy among the least educated white women is not as extreme as suggested by prior estimates. Up to 80% of the widening in the gradient is due to change in the educational composition of the population, and most of the change in the gradient is attributable to ages above 50.

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Presented in Session 225: Education, Health, and Mortality: Causality Issues