If you want to lead a slightly longer life, sending your kids to college may be a step in the right direction.
That's according to a new study by the Population Association of America (PAA). The study found that children with college degrees increase their parents' life expectancy for a few more years on average than those who never finished high school.
The two lead researchers on the study, sociologists Esther M. Friedman and Robert D. Mare, began with analyzing data from the University of Michigan's Health and Retirement Study, which surveys 25,000 adults who are over 50 every two years. The data collected includes personal information from volunteers about their children, grandchildren and even children-in-law.
They combined that data with the National Death Index, which showed that over 7,000 of the volunteers from the Health and Retirement Study had died since 1992. Researchers compared a sample of those numbers to those still living and discovered that from those volunteers, 56 percent of the survivors had children with some college experience, while 50 percent of those who died had children without any college.
Narrowing the data down to specifics, and accounting for income, Friedman and Mare found that those parents that had children with college degrees lived approximately two years longer than those who had children that dropped out of high school.
What makes this particularly interesting is that even when parents had college degrees themselves, their children's education was more important in determining their lifespans.
"In terms of the likelihood of dying at each time period in our study, the effects are actually even stronger for adult children's educational attainments than one's own level of education," Friedman said.
The researchers also found that the gender of the children matters. It turns out that having daughters is better for your lifespan than sons, particularly for mothers. However, there were no differences in how schooling of sons and daughters impacted lifespan, so this correlation wasn't studied further.
So why do parents with college-educated kids live longer? It's likely that better-educated kids live healthier lifestyles and encourage their parents to do so, too. It's also likely that children with college degrees are more knowledgeable about health matters and know when their parents should seek medical help. There is also a good chance that a higher education offers more financial means for children to take care of their parents as they age.
The takeaway from this research is that we might be able to better care for our future senior population by providing educational resources to children now.
"Improving the education of younger generations could potentially improve the health of two generations of the family (the younger generation as well as their parents)," Friedman said. "This is something that policy makers could consider when evaluating the potential impact of a program."