new study led by the Yale School of Medicine and the University of Alabama-Birmingham suggests education, and not race, is the best predictor of longevity.

The findings were published Feb. 20 in the American Journal of Public Health.

Researchers analyzed data of 5,114 black and white individuals in four U.S. cities. Participants were recruited about 30 years ago when they were in their 20s. Of the 5,114 people involved, 395 have died.

Race-based differences

Despite the paper’s conclusion, some racial disparities. are identified. For example, approximately 9 per cent of the black participants died prematurely, compared to 6 per cent of white volunteers.

While the most common cause of death for all groups was cardiovascular disease and cancer, researchers detected “notable differences” in death rates by level of education.

About 13 per cent of the volunteers with high school degrees or less died, compared to 5 per cent of college graduates.

Education erases racial disparity

When researchers calculated race and education together, race-related differences nearly vanished. During the course of the study, 13.5 per cent of black participants and 13.2 per cent of white subjects with a high school degree died.

Among participants with a college degree, 5.9 per cent of black subjects died and 4.3 per cent of whites died.

“These findings are powerful,” Brita Roy, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology and corresponding author of the paper said in a statement.

“They suggest that improving equity in access to and quality of education is something tangible that can help reverse this troubling trend in reduction of life expectancy among middle-aged adults.”

The findings echo past research linking education level to a longer life. A 2018 study using data from 174 countries over a 35 year period with a similar conclusion posited higher education leads to improved cognition, which can translate to better health-related decisions.