In many areas of life, a higher level of education is an advantage – including health. Those who are better educated live not only longer, but also longer in good health. This is shown once again by a study by the Institute of Demography of the Academy of Sciences. In an article published in the journal “SSM – Population Health”, researchers compared data from 16 European countries. The quality of the healthcare system or the respective diet, often cited as reasons for a longer and healthier life, are likely to play a lesser role. In some countries, people live healthier for up to 15 years and beyond.
Demographer Markus Sauerberg has examined how the proportion of people with a low, medium or high level of education in the total population affects the average healthy lifespan in different countries. A year of healthy life is defined as any year in which respondents reported not being limited in their daily lives. The scientist, who has been working at the German Federal Institute for Population Research since the beginning of the year, has, among other things, postgraduate mortality data from the Eurostat database, which are available for 16 countries – but not for Austria. .
Hungary particularly striking
The link between education and life expectancy in good health is particularly striking in Hungary: poorly educated 30-year-old men can expect to live an average of 24 good years in good health, while Hungarians of the same age with a high education can still wait nearly 40 years. For women, Finland has the biggest difference – with 20 healthy life years for 30-year-old women with a low level of education and 34 healthy life years for Finnish women of the same age with a high level of education. But the values of different educational groups also diverge in other countries. The duration varies from almost five years in Romania to more than 15 years in Hungary.
However, the size of the different educational groups is decisive for the overall result of a country. In Portugal, for example, about 71% of men have a low level of education, in Poland only 16%. As a result, the remaining healthy lifespan of all 30-year-old Polish men is 33.4 years. The 30-year-old Portuguese, on the other hand, has a good year less on average.
This is surprising – because values in Portugal are consistently higher for different education groups. So if you compare the different education groups in the two countries, the Portuguese do better in terms of remaining healthy lifespan, but not in the average of the total population.
The same is true when comparing women in Bulgaria and Italy: while Italian women have higher or similar values than Bulgarian women in all education groups, they do less well overall. The reason is that in Bulgaria the proportion of women with a low level of education is less than half that of Italy.
Armed with this knowledge, politicians could use health measures in a more targeted way, says Sauerberg. Some countries – such as Portugal – could increase the average healthy lifespan of the entire population by reducing inequalities and promoting education. Other states, like Poland, should aim for other structural disadvantages, such as a well-functioning healthcare system.