Publication Abstract

Authors: Montez JK, Hayward MD, Brown DC, Hummer RA

Title: Why is the educational gradient of mortality steeper for men?

Journal: J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 64(5):625-34

Date: 2009 Sep

Abstract: OBJECTIVES: It is often documented that the educational gradient of mortality is steeper for men than for women; yet, the explanation remains a matter of debate. We examine gender differences in the gradients within the context of marriage to determine whether overall differences reflect gender differences in health behaviors or a greater influence of men's education on spousal health. METHODS: We used data from the 1986 through 1996 National Health Interview Survey Linked Mortality Files for non-Hispanic White adults aged 55-84 years at the time of survey. We estimated Cox proportional hazards models to examine the gradients (N = 180,208). RESULTS: The educational gradient of mortality is marginally steeper for men than for women when aggregating across marital statuses; yet, this reflects a steeper gradient among unmarried men, with low-educated never married men exhibiting high levels of mortality. The gradient among unmarried men is steeper than unmarried women for causes that share smoking as a major risk factor, supporting a behavioral explanation for differences in the gradient. No gender difference in the gradient is observed for married adults. DISCUSSION: Low education and unmarried status exert a synergistic effect on men's mortality. Unmarried, low-educated men may lack social supports that encourage positive health behaviors.