By: John Lester, NewsOXY Reporter
09/22/2012 03:43 PM ET
Life expectancy for the least educated whites living in the U.S. has dropped, and the disparities between education and race have widened, according to a study published in the journal Health Affairs.
“What we found is that the further you go down the education spectrum the higher your death rate is and the lower your life expectancy is,” said the study’s lead investigator, Stuart J. Olshansky, a public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in an interview on Friday.
Researchers examined trends in data obtained from the National Vital Statistics System and the U.S. Census Bureau from 1990 to 2008, and were startled by some of their findings.
“We saw something we didn’t expect to see,” Olshansky said. “We saw a decline in life expectancy for white women, which was a five-year drop, and a three-year drop for white men…That is not what we expected. My colleagues thought the decline would happen in minorities.”
According to the New York Times, the reasons for the decline are unclear, but researchers offered some possible explanations, including a rise in prescription drug overdoses among young whites, higher rates of smoking among less educated white women, increasing obesity, and a rise in the number of number of least educated who don’t have health insurance.
Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans all experienced a rise in even at the lowest education levels, but all of those groups started at a lower level to begin with.
The study also found that a person’s life expectancy rose dramatically if they were on the upper end of the education spectrum.