Higher Education, Lower Risk to Health


Human Capital Risk Index EducationA college education doesn’t just raise your earnings potential. It may also lower your risk of poor health.

Health risks for people with a bachelor’s degree are 20% lower than for those with a high school education, and more than 27% lower than for people who didn’t finish high school, according to research by HCMS Group LLC. Holders of doctorates have risk scores 10% lower than for people with a bachelor’s degree.

The findings are based on the HCMS Group research reference database. Health risk reflects the company’s Human Capital Risk Index® (HUI, patent pending). The index weights more than 300 characteristics on each individual, including clinical diagnostics, medical and pharmacy benefit use, workers’ compensation claims, and disability time used. A score of 1.0 represents average risk across the entire database of 3.7 million people. The analysis of education level was based on a database subset for which the average risk score was higher than 1.0.


HUI Risk Scores by Education Level

For people who didn’t complete high school, HUI risk scores were 1.82, almost double the overall mean. The lowest score for any group was 1.19, for those with Ph.D.’s.

Other researchers have documented the link between higher education and better health. This month, the National Bureau of Economic Research published a working paper, “Education and Health: Evaluating Theories and Evidence.” The authors calculated that the health returns on education increase education’s total value by 15% to 55%. Earlier research sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation examined the role in this phenomenon of health knowledge and behaviors, employment and income, and social and psychological factors.

The conventional wisdom is that a higher degree of formal education correlates with a higher degree of health knowledge. Our research also suggests a significant compensation impact. Employees with a higher level of education are more likely to have higher-paying jobs with more compensation at risk through incentive compensation structures. These workers have a stronger incentive to protect their health to ensure continuing success.

The HUI score, based on more than a decade of research by HCMS Group, is the most accurate person-centered risk score available. It is central to the company’s 5|50 Solution™ which is designed to address the 5% of any population that accounts for 50% of employer’s benefit costs.

— Robert L. Simison, HCMS Group Communications

On behalf of HCMS Group Data Analytics.



4 Responses to Higher Education, Lower Risk to Health

  1. Why is the risk index higher for people with Master’s degrees than for people with either Bachelor’s or Phd degrees? Does not fit with the rest of the data.

    My best guess is that your data offers no clue as to how repeatable or reproducible it is.

    So much for another so-called index.

    • Research has shown that education is more correlated with health status than access to medical care… yet we commonly spend more on medical care than education. At the margin, much of the health gain in education is achieved with a bachelor’s degree with the critical element being the capacity to make decisions.

  2. SOOO dig deeper. Is it access to a car and ease of making / keeping appointments? Is it awareness of the need to check something out, the money to treat if something is found?

    In a particular occupation, does education lower risk or does education get one out of risky occupations?

    Does gender make a difference along with education? Does education lower the risk even more for females??

    Does age matter? How many “silent killers” are treated BECAUSE education = awareness?

    Does injury play a role within an industry, does education lower risks for injury / recovery within a problem. How about following drug / exercise regimen prescribe relate to education?

    Is the slight bump for masters relate to age / industry / field work versus office work?

    Would a concentrated screening program help lower the risk. Not much can be done for a 30yr old regarding education, but would a community campaign to screen also beat the odds?

    Does “Take two pills twice daily” actually get followed better with for a PHD than a drop-out?

    • In general, the difference is primarily one’s capacity to gather data, assess risks and benefits, and make decisions. This is significantly influenced by income that is associated with education level. Certainly some variation exists related to some of your points, but they are not primary.

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