Researchers at the Virginia Commonwealth University Center on Society and Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said while overall life expectancy has increased throughout the industrialized world, Americans without a high school education are being left behind.
Dr. Steven H. Woolf, director of the Virginia Commonwealth University's Center on Society and Health, and colleagues found 25-year-olds without a high school diploma can expect to die nine years sooner than college graduates.
They also have greater illness. For example, in 2011 the prevalence of diabetes reached 15 percent for adults without a high school education, compared with 7 percent for college graduates.
Overall, people with less education face a serious health disadvantage.
The policy brief suggested education was important not only for saving lives, but also for saving dollars and creating economic productivity.
People with fewer years of education accrue higher medical costs and are less productive at work, which means inadequate education is costing employers. The health benefits of a good education include greater access to health insurance and medical care, and higher earnings to afford a healthier lifestyle and to reside in healthier homes and neighborhoods, the study said.
"I don't think most Americans know that children with less education are destined to live sicker and die sooner," Woolf said in a statement. "It should concern parents and it should concern policy leaders. In today's knowledge economy, policymakers must remember that cutting 'non-health' programs like education will cost us more in the end by making Americans sicker, driving up healthcare costs, and weakening the competitiveness of our economy."