About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Friday, January 05, 2007
Lack of education can kill you, extra education lengthens your life
The article in the New York Times reported several findings over the last few years suggesting that the single most important statistical predictor (and, more controversially, causal factor) of longevity across the globe is education. One study at Columbia University used historical records from the United States to track the effect of increases in the number of compulsory years of schooling in different States through time: on average, an additional year in school was equivalent to an additional 18 months of life span. Not bad, even if you have to endure a bit more calculus and English lit.
Education is statistically more important than any other single factor, including – rather surprisingly – race and socio-economic status, and the results have been confirmed in several other countries around the planet. The most intriguing suggestion made so far to explain the effect is that it has to do with people's ability to forgo immediate pleasure for future gain, rather than with simple knowledge of health matters. For example, in the United States pretty much everyone, regardless of race and wealth, is by now aware that smoking has deleterious health effects, and yet the rate of smoking is much higher among low-income people. It is certainly intriguing that at least one federally funded research study showed that among middle-aged people, less education is in fact directly related to difficulty in thinking ahead.
So, Aristotle was right, after all: it is the educated person who is most capable of steering her behavior toward the golden mean (away from excesses) and to overcome humanity's inherent problem of akrasia (weakness of the will). Rather than “seizing the day,” it is much healthier to think ahead and go to the gym.