A lack of education can be as deadly as smoking, researchers have found, with the potential to knock 10 years off a person’s lifespan.
Those leaving school without decent GCSEs or A-levels are at risk from a lifetime of poor diet, long manual working hours and worsening mental health, according to the results published in the journal PLOS ONE.
Researchers at the University of Colorado examined population data in America going back to 1925, in order to determine how education levels affected mortality over time. They found that the differences in lifespan across different education levels grew much bigger over time.
For example, mortality rates fell moderately among those with high school degrees, the equivalent of British A-levels, but much more rapidly among those with college degrees, equivalent to our university degree.
"Our results suggest that policies and interventions that improve educational attainment could substantially improve survival in the U.S. population, especially given widening educational disparities," said study co-author Dr Patrick Krueger, assistant professor at the university.
“Unless these trends change, the mortality attributable to low education will continue to increase in the future."
Around 6,000 pupils a year fail to achieve any qualifications in the UK, while a huge 47,000 gain fewer than five GCSEs. The researchers argued that thousands of lives could be saved by better education.