Brett Smith for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
As advances in technology and awareness of health issues increase throughout the years, so does life expectancy for most Americans.
However, a new study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (JHSB) has found that both smoking and joblessness contribute to higher death rates for the nation´s least educated white women.
“The least-educated white women, during the 1980s and 1990s, began to live shorter lives — an unprecedented longevity decline that contradicted a broad, sweeping increase in life expectancies during the 20th century in most populations,” said study co-author Anna Zajacova, an assistant professor in the University of Wyoming´s (UWYO) Department of Sociology.
According to the study, the mortality risk for America´s least educated women was 37 percent greater than other women in any single year from 1997 to 2001. From 2002 to 2006, the odds of dying had risen to 66 percent, even after considering age as a factor.
Zajacova and her Harvard University colleague Jennifer Karas Montez culled data from the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) Linked Mortality Files that included almost 47,000 white women, ages 45 to 84 between 1997 and 2006. The women in the study were split into two groups: those without a high school diploma and those who had graduated from high school. The two female researchers considered several different factors to see which were driving the higher mortality rates: poverty, obesity, home ownership, marital status and alcohol consumption.
Unsurprisingly, they found smoking to be a significant factor for mortality rate. They also found that joblessness was a major factor, even after considering factors related to employment, like income and health insurance.
“What is it about employment that has this huge impact on mortality, beyond the material resources it brings?” Montez asked in a New York Times interview.
The study was an attempt to explain the disturbing trend of lowering life expectancy for the least educated Americans, most notably women.
The researchers noted that during the 1980s and 1990s, educational inequalities grew in the United States — leading to less stable and lower-paying jobs for those with the lowest levels of education.
“These changes occurred for most demographic groups and resulted in growing health inequalities for the whole population, but they seemed to impact white women particularly strongly,” Zajacova said.
“Among white women with the least education, an unprecedented trend occurred: They began dying younger,” she added. “This is contrary to a century of systematically increasing life spans in most population in most countries across the globe, an unusual trend that was bound to attract research and policy attention.”
Montez suggested that having a job could boost health by giving someone sense of purpose and control over their life. A workplace also provides a social network, reducing isolation.
“Now, perhaps the question is why these two factors played such a prominent role,” Zajacova said. “This may be because both employment and smoking happen to be important for one´s health and longevity.”
“At the same time, the more- versus less-educated white women became more dissimilar in employment and smoking patterns over time, so these two important factors increasingly differentiated the healthier, more-educated white women from the less-educated ones,” she added.