Ask someone whether an education is important and chances are you’ll be able to get yourself into a long, impassioned debate. For some, education and the ensuing career possibilities are key to living a longer, less stressful, and stable life — something they might say would be more difficult for someone without an education. But it turns out that an education could have nothing to do with living a long life. According to a new study, people without an education can live for just as long simply by having a sense of control over their lives.
It may sound obvious. After all, anyone who has a sense of confidence and control over the way they accomplish their goals and deal with hardships will probably feel less stressed. But other research has shown that people who aren’t educated are more likely to die younger.
The current study suggests the opposite. Although there was no association between having an education and longevity, people who were uneducated, but had a high sense of control over their lives also had a mortality rate three times lower than those with a low sense of control. “A high sense of control all but wipes out educational differences when it comes to mortality,” said Margie Lachman, a professor of psychology at Brandeis University, in a press release. “A person with less education but a high sense of control is practically indistinguishable from a person of high education.”
The researchers tracked 6,135 people, aged 25 to 75, over the course of 14 years. At the outset, between 1994 and 1996, the participants were asked to rate their agreement to a set of statements, such as “Sometimes I feel I am being pushed around in my life,” which were meant to assess their perceived control. By 2009, nearly 600 participants had died. Those who had a higher sense of control lived for longer, even after accounting for factors that would normally put someone down, like depression and chronic illnesses.
“Health and longevity are not just due to health care access,” Lachman told HealthDay. “Attitudes make a difference. How you construe your circumstances and challenges determine whether you take action or give up, or feel stressed or motivated” Qualities like being able to take hold of ones circumstances can be taught through education, Lachman said, but they can also be taught through more broad public health programs aimed at “health-promoting attitudes and behaviors.”
The reason for these correlations, according to Shevaun Neupert, an associate professor of psychology at North Carolina State University, is that feeling in control can be “partially derived from happiness or satisfaction, and there is probably a feedback process at work,” she told HealthDay. “A low sense of control may lead to less happiness, which in turn would lead to even lower sense of control.”
With that said, it’s all about the attitude. “Whether individuals that we studied actually … have control over their lives is irrelevant in our study,” Lachman told HealthDay.
Source: Turiano N, Chapman B, Lachman M, et al. Perceived Control Reduces Mortality Risk at Low, Not High, Education Levels. Health Psychology. 2014.