Understanding the Educational Gradient in Mortality

Abstract: There is a positive association between education and longevity. Individuals with a university degree tend to live longer than high school graduates who, in turn, live longer than those with compulsory education. These differences are neither larger nor smaller in Sweden than in other European countries, despite its ambitious welfare-state policies. Furthermore, educational differences in longevity are growing, especially among women.In this thesis I look at the structural, individual and behavioral processes which generate and maintain the educational gradient in mortality. This is done by compiling theoretical insights and empirical research from a range of scientific disciplines. In doing so, this thesis aims to contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of the educational gradient in mortality.Several factors contribute to the association between education and health. Social and biological processes initiated in early life influence both educational achievement and adult health. Education helps individuals become more effective as agents by fostering generic skills such as information-gathering and decision-making. This aspect of education, learned effectiveness, promotes control and health regardless of available resources and prevailing conditions. Education thus has a direct influence on health. Education also indirectly influences health by giving access to better occupational positions and higher incomes, as well as by promoting social capital and healthy habits.The empirical section of the thesis consists of four separate quantitative studies using register data. Three of the studies use Swedish national register data while one uses register data from 18 European populations. The results indicate that widening income inequalities in mortality have contributed to a widening of educational inequalities in mortality, since education is a determinant of income. Both alcohol and smoking contribute to educational inequalities in longevity, but smoking has played an especially pronounced role in the widening of inequalities among women. Smoking represents a significant part of the explanation as to why women with low education have experienced smaller gains in life expectancy than the rest of the population. The results also indicate that the general trend towards more well-educated populations has contributed to the widening educational inequalities in mortality in Europe and that education is a stronger predictor of mortality among low income-earners than among the rest of the population.