Study co-author Carol Ryff, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and colleagues measured levels of Interleukin-6 -- an immunity protein associated with cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, some cancers and other health problems -- in participants in the Survey of Midlife in the United States.
"If you didn't go far in your education, but you walk around feeling good psychological stuff, you may not be more likely to suffer ill-health than people with a lot of schooling," Ryff said in a statement. "Low educational attainment does not guarantee bad health consequences, or poor biological regulation."
The study, published in the journal Health Psychology, found less-educated people who scored high on measures of general happiness or self-acceptance or who felt that the circumstances of their lives were manageable showed levels of the inflammatory protein comparable to similarly satisfied, but highly educated peers.
"Other research shows that these psychological factors respond well to intervention," Ryff said. "Therapies exist that give people the tools to keep all these psychological characteristics working in their favor. They've been shown to keep people from falling back into depression and anxiety, which we know means bad things for their health."