Education is defined as a person’s education level or achievement or years of education. It is often used in conjunction with income and occupation to determine socio-economic status. Higher levels of education have been correlated with lower rates of chronic disease, healthier lifestyle decisions, and a greater sense of control over one’s life (1).

When thinking of healthy lifestyles and setting on a path to good health, education isn’t typically thought of as being part of the formula. However, even when other factors, such as income, are considered and accounted for, there is strong evidence that links education with health. In fact, evidence shows that highly-educated adults live longer and healthier lives than those with less education — and their children may stand to benefit as well (1).

Individuals who drop out of school are at a higher risk of encountering numerous social and health problems than those with more education, including issues such as obesity, substance abuse, and intentional and unintentional injuries (2). The health disparities — differences in health status between different groups such as low-income and high-income individuals or males and females — between highly-educated and less-educated individuals become more stark when examining the following national statistics:

• Children whose parents have not finished high school are more than six times more likely to be in poor or fair health as children of college graduates.

• College graduates can expect to live at least five years longer than individuals who have not finished high school.

• Across racial and ethnic groups, adults with greater education levels are less likely to classify their health in any category less than very good.

Why are more educated individuals usually healthier? The answer is complex, but generally, those with more education are more likely to engage in behaviors that promote good health, such as exercising regularly, not smoking or using tobacco and visiting a doctor on a regular basis for health screenings and check-ups (3). Higher levels of educational attainment are linked to higher incomes and better-quality jobs, and parental education is connected to children’s health and levels of educational attainment. 

Studies show that a child whose mother has graduated college are twice as likely to live past their first birthday, showing that educational attainment can affect health across generations. 

—Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Issue Brief #5, Education and Health

It also reflects the reality in our nation that there are serious disadvantages and inequities experienced by individuals with less education, reflecting the collective need to bridge these gaps within Jefferson County to improve the health and quality of life for all residents.

According to research, there are three ways education is linked to health:

1. Health knowledge and behaviors

2. Employment status and income

3. Psychological factors (3)

The first way, “Health knowledge and behaviors,” is the most recognized, since education increases a person’s level of knowledge and their ability to understand basic health information. This is necessary to make informed health decisions. It also raises a person’s ability to cope with physical or mental health issues, as well as other stressors, as they arise (2) .

The second way education is linked to health is through employment status and income, since employment is often the sole source of income within a household. Studies show that on average, each additional year of schooling adds 11 percent to a person’s income. Over time, the earnings gap becomes more apparent, with lifetime earnings for adults with a high school diploma at $1.2 million, compared to $2.1 million for those with a bachelor’s degree and $4.4 million for those with graduate degrees (3). Greater education leads to better employment prospects and financial stability, which helps relieve life stress and enhance health. Higher educational attainment is also tied to better working conditions and work-related benefits, such as health insurance, as well greater economic security and an increased ability to accumulate wealth.

The third way education is linked to health is through social and psychological factors, such as one’s sense of control, social standing and levels of social support from relationships with family members and friends. Several research studies have shown that higher levels of education provide a greater sense of personal control in an individual’s life. Education also fosters skills, habits and attitudes such as problem-solving, purposefulness, self-directedness, confidence and perseverance, which contribute to an individual’s expectation that their behaviors and actions can influence the course of their lives (3). Surveys of individuals who report positive beliefs about personal control have rated their health to be at higher levels and reported lower levels of chronic disease. They are also more likely to engage in more positive behaviors related to activities such as smoking, alcohol consumption, physical activity and diet than those with negative beliefs about personal control (3). In conjunction with income and occupation, educational attainment determines where an individual ranks within the social hierarchy, which reflects their level of influence and status, or social standing. Greater educational attainment is generally associated with higher social standing, which in turn is correlated with better health overall. Our social networks are a mainstay of both emotional and practical support, and higher levels of social support have been linked with better physical and mental health outcomes. Individuals with more social contacts have lower mortality rates across age groups and genders, because. our support networks buffer us against the heath damaging effects of stress by reducing negative emotional and behavioral responses. 

Implications and Data for Jefferson County

Jefferson County adults (25 years and older) tend to be more educated compared to Colorado and the United States. In Jefferson County 94.6 percent of those 25 years and older have a high school degree or equivalent, and 45.6 percent hold a bachelor's degree or higher degree. While disparities exist between races and ethnicities, in Jefferson County all races and ethnicities are more likely to hold a high school degree than their counterparts in Colorado or the United States. Similarly, almost all races and ethinicites in Jefferson County are more likely to hold a Bachelor's degree than there counterparts in Colorado and the United States. The exception is among Asians in Jefferson County, where there are slightly less holders of bachelor's degrees than in Colorado and the United States. This may be due to the older age of Asian Americans in Jefferson County compared to Colorado and the United States. In general, older Asian Americans tend to be less educated, while their children tend to be better educated. 

Community Health Needs Assessment Focus Group Findings

Participants noted concerns around strengthening health literacy for youth and adults on issues including depression, substance use and misuse, healthy eating and other lifestyle changes. 

Community Health Needs Assessment Key Informant Interview Finding

Informants noted that schools have a major influence on the social determinants of health. There have been innovative programs developed in Jefferson County targeting health issues in schools, including the Edgewater Collective All Kids Succeed Cradle to Career program and the Jefferson County Healthy Schools program. Informants noted engaging both parents and students on the health issues affecting youth and their families is an effective strategy.

Informants cited a need for an expansion in vocational training programs. These informants also expressed a need for alternative pathways into jobs with sufficient and sustainable wages for youth other than attending college.

Percent of those 25 years and older, without a high school degree or equivalent, by census tract

Darker areas represent census tracts with a greater percentage of those without a high school degree.

US Census, ACS 2013-2017 5 year estimates, Table: S1501

Student retention 2018-2019 school year for Jefferson County and Colorado

Source: Colorado Department of Education


Reference List

1. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2018). Education. Retrieved from:

2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015, September 1). Health Disparities. Retrieved from:

3. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. (2011). Education and Health [Issue brief]. Retrieved from:


Data Sources

US Census, ACS: American Community Survey - American Factfinder (Tables: S1501):

Colorado Department of Education:

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Published on July 17, 2018

Updated on January 31, 2020