Friday, August 26, 2011

A uni degree will extend your life how much?

What’s the worth of a university degree? Around four extra years of life according to the first Australian study of the subject, and a high income is worth even more.

Andrew Leigh has a day job as a member of parliament, representing a seat in the Australian Capital Territory. This morning (FRI) he will be quizzing the Reserve Bank governor as part of his responsibilities as a member of the house economics committee. But until last year he was researching these sort of questions as a professor at the Australian National University, and academic papers take a while to be published.

His finding, prepared with Sydney University health academic Philip Clarke, is that being quite rich makes you roughly half as likely to die in any given year as someone who is quite poor.

If you are in the top 20 per cent of income earners you can expect to live six years longer than someone in the bottom 20 per cent.

If your education extends beyond Year 12 you can expect to live four years longer than someone who stopped when they left school.

Age makes little difference to gaps, nor does gender.

The gaps are larger than those found in earlier surveys and approach those for indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.... In 2009 the Bureau of Statistics found indigenous Australians were likely to die ten years earlier than other Australians.

Dr Leigh and Mr Clarke examined deaths among the 14,500 Australians surveyed each year for the Melbourne Institute Household income and labor dynamics project. When someone surveyed in one year can’t be contacted in the next, one of the reasons recorded is “death”.

The more usual method is to examine death rates between suburbs. The Bureau of Statistics finds men living in the most well off suburbs live four years longer and women two years longer than their counterparts in the most disadvantaged suburbs.

But Dr Leigh says this can understate the differences, “for example if palliative care facilities tended to be located in high-income neighbourhoods”.

Published in today's SMH and Age


If your education extends beyond Year 12:

4 years

If you are in the top rather than the bottom 20% of earners:

6 years

Previous Bureau of Statistics findings based on high and low income suburbs:

2 to 4 years

Death, Dollars and Degrees: Socioeconomic Status and Longevity in Australia” by Philip Clarke and Andrew Leigh, forthcoming in Economic Papers

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