Get a B.A. and Live Longer


By Jennifer Kunze, Ph.D.

Director of Ramp-Up to Readiness


It is widely known that those who earn a Bachelor’s Degree tend to earn higher salaries and are less likely to be unemployed than those who do not. Students engaged in the University of Minnesota’s Ramp-Up to Readiness curriculum for grades 6 - 12 are taught this in various lessons that include the data shown below from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. While this particular data set is from 2022, the trends have not changed much at all over the many years we have been tracking it in our curriculum.

Yet, there are numerous other benefits of earning a college degree that may be lesser known.  The Lumina Foundation, for example, has documented the following additional benefits of earning a degree:

  • Lower incidence of poverty
  • Greater likelihood of having health insurance
  • More likely to have a retirement plan
  • Greater job safety
  • Higher occupational prestige
  • Likelihood of reporting better health
  • Less likely to be a smoker or heavy drinker
  • More likely to exercise, have a healthy diet, wear seat belts, and seek preventive medical care
  • More likely to have a bank account
  • Less likely to rely on expensive forms of banking
  • Lower probability of being in prison or jail 
  • More likely to be married 
  • Less likely to be divorced or separated
  • Significantly higher likelihood of being happy
  • More likely to be a voter or participate in politics
  • More likely to volunteer
  • More likely to donate money to charities
  • Greater participation in school, community, service, civic, and religious organizations
  • More likely to interact with neighbors and have higher trust with each other

It has also been demonstrated in the last few decades that those earning a Bachelor’s Degree tend to live longer than those who do not, a statistic that was only able to be calculated after 1989, when educational attainment was first recorded on U.S. birth certificates. 

A new report by the Brookings Institution examined this mortality gap between American adults to learn about the overall well-being of our society over time. The authors, Anne Case and Angus Deaton, aimed to determine if the gap had changed–and if so, what varied life experiences might be associated with such differences. Why study this particular metric of well-being?  Case and Deaton indicated, “Compared with money-based measures of wellbeing, which depend on often controversial assumptions about what to include and on how to convert money into real measures, mortality is an objective measure, less subject to measurement error—someone is dead or alive—and there is little debate around which is better” (p. 2). 

To conduct the research, Case and Deaton studied variances between American adults with and without a Bachelor’s Degree starting in 1992, when the mortality gap was 2.5 years longer for those holding a B.A., up to 2021. The findings were quite shocking:

From 1992 to 2010, both educational groups saw falling mortality, but with greater improvements for the more educated; from 2010 to 2019, mortality continued to fall for those with a BA while rising for those without; during the COVID pandemic, mortality rose for both groups, but markedly more rapidly for the less educated. In consequence, the mortality gap between the two groups expanded in all three periods, leading to an 8.5-year difference in adult life expectancy by the end of 2021 (p. 2).

The mortality gap between these years is depicted in the corresponding graph (p.10) below :

The authors also investigated gaps in other wellbeing metrics, which they posited may be related to the rising gap in mortality. For instance, there are stark disparities between marriage rates, extreme mental distress, sciatic pain, and difficulty socializing between American adults with and without a B.A. (pp. 32 - 33), as shown below:

In addition, measures of household wealth are highly discrepant between American adults with and without a B.A. (p. 37) as depicted in the graph below:

Cancer mortality rates for men in the United States, moreover, have become quite varied by educational attainment (p. 22), as shown below:

Meanwhile, there are also sizable differences between cancer mortality rates for women by educational attainment (pp. 21 - 22), as seen below. It is noteworthy that there are some cancers with similar mortality rates, which the authors suggest is due to the fact that those without a B.A. tend to have children earlier in life.

One of the most fascinating findings in Case and Deaton’s research was how the U.S. has stacked up over time against other wealthy countries in terms of life expectancy. Their data show that in the mid-1980s the U.S. was in the middle of the range of other rich countries studied, including Japan, Switzerland, Spain, South Korea, Italy, Australia, Sweden, Norway, France, Ireland, Canada, Netherlands, Austria, Finland, Portugal, Belgium, New Zealand, Greece, Denmark, Israel, and the United States. Remarkably, by the early 2000s, the U.S. had the lowest life expectancy–by far. An even more astonishing fact is that if Americans with a B.A. degree were considered a separate country, prior to the pandemic this group would have been in second in this list of countries, just behind Japan (pp. 11 - 12).

There has been a lot of talk lately about the value of a Bachelor’s Degree. Some disparage going to college as a waste of time and money. The data from this Brookings Institute study highlight the true value of a B.A.–and not just in dollars. Clearly, the privileges that come with earning a Bachelor’s Degree in this country can have a profound and lasting impact on Americans’ lives on how long they are likely to live, how likely they are to be married and experience mental and physical distress, how likely they are to die of varied cancers, and how much wealth they are likely to accumulate.

In summarizing the significance of earning a Bachelor’s Degree, Jennifer Reckner, who serves as the Director of the Office of Undergraduate Education at the University of Minnesota stated,  “It’s most commonly thought that getting a college degree will provide a better job and a higher income, but there are so many other benefits related to long-term overall health and well-being to consider when planning for the future.  When we think about the goals of universities and educators in closing equity gaps, we can see how much further reaching the impact can be, thereby helping us remain focused on those goals.”  Case and Deaton’s research identifies numerous societal issues that need to be addressed and problems that need to be solved so these gaps in Americans’ well-being can be closed. In the meantime, I strongly encourage secondary school administrators in this country to devote time, staff, and other resources to helping students prepare for success in postsecondary so that all students in our nation will know what is at stake and will be well-informed. Their health, wealth, and longevity may depend on it.


Jennifer Kunze, Ph.D., is the Director of Ramp-Up to Readiness, which is located within the College Readiness Consortium at the University of Minnesota on the Twin Cities campus. Ramp-Up is a grades 6 - 12 college and career ready curriculum for schools and out-of-school programs that focuses on five essential areas of readiness: academic, admissions, career, financial, and social emotional. Ramp-Up aims to make sure all students have an equitable opportunity to achieve social and economic mobility through higher education—whether it be at a two or four-year college, a trade school, or an apprenticeship. 

More Blog Posts