Is educational attainment associated with shared determinants of health in the elderly? Findings from the macarthur studies of successful aging

Laura D. Kubzansky, Lisa F. Berkman, Thomas A. Glass, Teresa E. Seeman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

97 Scopus citations


Objective: To investigate the association of educational attainment with an array of risk factors for poor health among high-functioning older men and women. Methods: Cross-sectional analyses of psychosocial, behavioral, and biological factors and educational attainment were conducted using data from a population-based cohort study of older men and women. Participants consisted of 70- to 79-year-old residents of communities of East Boston, MA; New Haven, CT; and Durham County, NC (N = 1192) participating in the Established Populations for Epidemiologic Studies of the Elderly programs, a three-site longitudinal study of community-dwelling men and women. Participants were selected on the basis of high physical and cognitive function, representing approximately the top third of their peers in terms of functional ability in 1988. In-home interviews were conducted. Associations among education and behavioral (e.g., cigarette smoking and physical activity), biological (e.g., pulmonary function, serum cholesterol), psychological (e.g., self-efficacy, anxiety), and social (e.g., networks and support) factors were examined. Results: Low levels of education were associated with poorer psychological function (less mastery, efficacy, happiness), less optimal health behaviors (increased tobacco consumption and decreased levels of physical activity), poorer biological conditions (decreased pulmonary function, increased body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio), and larger social networks (increased number of contacts, decreased negative support). Several factors (alcohol consumption, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol) were nonlinearly related to educational attainment. Conclusions: Educational attainment is associated with a broad array of psychosocial and biological conditions among the elderly. That an education gradient functions over an array of factors that structure daily life, even in later life in a healthy population, may suggest how socioeconomic status influences health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)578-585
Number of pages8
JournalPsychosomatic medicine
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jan 1 1998


  • Biopsychosocial functioning
  • Education
  • Elderly
  • Health determinants

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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