Everyone knows that your level of formal education has a large influence on the quality of your life, but a new study has found that it may actually affect its length as well. Conducted by researchers from New York University, the University of Colorado and the University of North Carolina, the study found that not having a high school degree was as deadly as being a smoker.

The researchers used information on more than a million people collected between 1986 and 2006 as part of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)'s National Health Interview Survey. They compared death rates of the population of people who didn't finish high school with those of the population with a high school degree, and did the same with people who completed some college with those who received a bachelor's degree.

They found that education was closely tied to mortality rates. In fact, the results showed that if everyone who didn't graduate from high school went on to earn a GED or an equivalent degree, about the same proportion of deaths in the population could be avoided as if all current smokers quit smoking. Significant reduction in death rates could also be achieved if everyone in the population that attended college but didn't finish was able to complete their bachelor's degree.

"Broadly, life expectancy is increasing, but those with more education are reaping most of the benefits," said Virginia Chang of NYU, one of the study's authors. "In addition to education policy's obvious relevance for improving learning and economic opportunities, its benefits to health should also be thought of as a key rationale. The bottom line is paying attention to education has the potential to substantively reduce mortality."

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