Will I Live Longer If I Learn?

The Preston curve, true or false?

Article by Anna Mind


In 1975 Samuel Preston drew the first “Preston curve”, which showed that the more money or income (horizontal axis) person had, the longer he/she lived (vertical axis) – clearly showing a high correlation and therefore statistically significant. This was considered to be much like an axiom- a statement that was presumed to be true, because it seemed more than logical, that people who have more money, can afford better health care. In 2013 research dedicated to the assessment of the “Preston curve”, led by Mackenbach and Looman found that the shift and relationship in Europe was much less significant than in 1975. The result of this research was linked to medical progress, not education.

11 years after the “Preston Curve” John and Pat Caldwell suggested that mortality rates decreased in Sri Lanka, Costa Rica and India not because of the income, but because females were receiving higher quality education.

So to answer the question in the title – yes, you will, predictively, live longer, congratulations! But how and why does it even matter?

It matters because it impacts the policy making process in all countries. Where to invest money? In school enrollment, the quality of education, free education or in economic growth – this is why it matters.

Education, as it turned out in the study is a much better predictor of life expectancy, as the “curve” turned out to be a “line”. This is because people with higher education qualifications make more deliberate choices regarding their health. The “Preston curve” could turn out to be incorrect. Thus improving education is the main goal – it raises income and betters overall health. “Empirical association between income and health is largely spurious,” says Lutz.

For example – in Russia – if an adult man receives higher education, he lives 2 years longer on average than his peers that have gone only through high school. The difference is seemingly more pronounced in Eastern Europe than in Southern Europe (Caselli et al. 2014).

The takeaway message – If your man has higher education, he will probably live longer.

To conclude:

  • By improving our education, we will improve our health
  • Education will probably make you live longer
  • Higher income is also highly associated with a higher level of education

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Photo sources:

  1. www.unsplash.com
    1. Edwin Andrade
    2. Glen Noble

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