Better educated individuals live longer, healthier lives than those with less education, and their children are more likely to thrive. This is true even when factors like income are taken into account.

Why Is Education Important to Health?

More schooling is linked to higher incomes, better employment options, and increased social supports that, together, support opportunities for healthier choices. Yet in 2017, about 10% of adults older than 24 had not graduated high school, and of those who had graduated high school, an additional 32% had no education beyond high school [1]. As of 2012, 14% of Americans had only basic literacy and 4% lacked even basic literacy [2]. Many more also lack health literacy, making it difficult to navigate health care.

Higher levels of education can lead to a greater sense of control over one’s life, which is linked to better health, healthier lifestyle decisions, and fewer chronic conditions [3]. Education is also connected to lifespan: on average, college graduates live nine more years than high school dropouts [4]. 

Researchers estimate that each additional year of schooling leads to about 11% more income annually. Higher paying jobs are more likely than lower paying jobs to provide workers with safe work environments and offer benefits such as health insurance and sick leave. More educated workers also fare better in economic downturns [3]. 

Parental education is linked to children’s health and educational attainment. Children whose mothers graduated from college are twice as likely to live past their first birthday. Stress and poor health early in life, common among those whose parents have lower levels of education, is linked to decreased cognitive development, increased tobacco and drug use, and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and other conditions [3].  

Communities and educators can work together to increase educational attainment for children and adults, better preparing the individuals and families of today and tomorrow to live long, healthy lives.


[1] US Department of Commerce. Educational Attainment of the Population 18 Years and Over, by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: 2017. US Bureau of the Census; 2017.
[2] Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). OECD Skills outlook 2013: First results from the survey of adult skills. Washington, DC: OECD Publishing; 2013. 
[3] Egerter S, Braveman P, Sadegh-Nobari T, Grossman-Kahn R, Dekker M. Education and health. Exploring the Social Determinants of Health Issue Brief No. 5. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF); 2011. 
[4] Center on Society and Health. Education: It matters more to health than ever before. Richmond: Center on Society and Health, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU); 2014.

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Our Rankings show how healthy a community is as well as indicators for future health. This provides a starting point for action on improving health for all. Dig deeper into the measures below to learn more about our approaches to measuring health.

The extent to which students within different race and ethnicity groups are unevenly distributed across schools when compared with the racial and ethnic composition of the local population. The index ranges from 0 to 1 with lower values representing a school composition that approximates race and ethnicity distributions in the student populations within the county, and higher values representing more segregation.
The average gap in dollars between actual and required spending per pupil among public school districts. Required spending is an estimate of dollars needed to achieve U.S. average test scores in each district.

When it comes to developing and implementing solutions to problems that affect communities, evidence matters. The strategies below give some ideas of ways communities can harness evidence to make a difference locally. You can learn more about these and other strategies in What Works for Health, which summarizes and rates evidence for policies, programs, and systems changes.

Establish small learning communities in high schools focused on fields such as health care, finance, technology, communications, or public service
Provide preschool education and comprehensive support to families with low incomes, including small classes, student meals, and home visits with referrals for social service support as needed
Help high school students prepare for college, complete applications, and enroll, especially first-generation applicants and students from families with low incomes
Provide supports such as mentoring, counseling, or vocational training, or undertake school environment changes to help students complete high school
Provide child care, parent education, physical health and mental health services, and other family supports to pregnant women and parents with low incomes and children aged 0 to 3
Convene small groups of families for facilitated weekly meetings that include a family meal, structured activities, parent support time, and parent-child play therapy

The County Health Rankings provide a snapshot of a community’s health and a starting point for investigating and discussing ways to improve health. Select a state below to see what’s happening locally.