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Education - The Impact Of Education

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Education is a significant factor in aging. It is modestly related to income and strongly related to occupational prestige, both of which lead to better health care throughout life, a key to the enjoyment of later years. Ronald Manheimer reports that "education is associated with increased participation in politics and the electoral process, more aggressive health-seeking behavior, different styles of consumerism, and the desire for lifelong learning" (p. 45). Further, "education must prepare the individual not only for the tasks of early and middle age, but for those of old age as well" (Erikson, Erikson, and Kivnick, p. 336). Arguing from a developmental perspective, Erikson, Erikson, and Kivnick advocate more practical courses in public schools, and they stress knowledge of the aging human body as an aid in maintenance and long-range survival.

Education has been linked to maintaining self-esteem, developing leadership abilities for volunteer roles, and empowering older people as health care consumers. Helena Lopata, famous for her studies of widows, reminds us that education helps people cope with loss. By providing the skills to develop friendships and commitments to voluntary associations, education links people to sources of support during periods of adjustment.

Health and economic dependency vary significantly with educational attainment. Comfort in interacting with doctors and adherence to treatment regimens come from greater learning. Obtaining work that supplies health benefits is usually contingent on completing high school or college. Having greater income for proper nutrition and regular preventive health care is also associated with higher education. These factors set up differences in longevity related to education. Because racial, ethnic, and cultural heritage are linked to differences in education and economic resources, longevity varies by these categories as well.

Figure 1 Median Years of Education by Age SOURCE: 1947, 1952 to 1998 March Current Population Survey, (noninstitutional population, excluding members of the Armed Forces living in barracks); 1960, 1950, and 1940 Census of Population (resident population).

Figure 2 Percent 65 Years and Over with Bachelor's Degree or Higher Educational Attainment, by Racial-Ethnic and Sex Status—March 2000 SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau, Internet Release data, December 19, 2000 (www.census/gov/)

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