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Swiss graduates outlive school leavers

The benefits come later Keystone

University-educated Swiss live more than seven years longer than their less academic counterparts, according to research just published.

This content was published on March 25, 2006 - 17:01

The authors of the study, the first of its kind in Switzerland, say new health and social strategies are needed to reduce inequalities in life expectancy.

Switzerland is one of the nations with the highest life expectancy – 77.9 years for men and 83 years for women.

But how long you live is linked to what kind of education you receive, say researchers at Bern and Zurich universities.

Using data from the 1990 census, they found that a 30-year-old male university graduate lives on average 7.1 years longer than someone with just compulsory schooling under his belt. Among 65 year olds the difference in life expectancy is 3.5 years.

For female graduates the gap is not so pronounced. Those aged 30 and 65 can expect to live an extra 3.6 and 2.7 years respectively.

Adrian Spörri, a researcher at Bern University's institute for social and preventive medicine, stressed that living longer was not simply down to more hours spent in the classroom.

But he said a good education was a determining factor in securing better job prospects, health, wealth and social status.

"The sum of these factors accounts for these differences in life expectancy," Spörri told swissinfo.

Risk group

The study, published in the Swiss Medical Weekly on Friday, found that less well educated young and middle-aged men represented a special risk group that needed addressing.

It noted that leading causes of death in this age group were heart disease, suicide and accidents, particularly alcohol-related traffic accidents. Men in this group were more prone to smoking, heavy drinking and obesity.

"We need to invest in younger men and offer different options for them to get into higher education," explained Spörri.

"In Switzerland we have a very selective school system, so those who do not make the grade miss out on going to secondary school. Most of them have no chance of closing the gap in later life."

According to the researchers, those who leave school at 16 are more likely to end up in physically demanding manual jobs.

They said this was not necessarily true of women and was one of the reasons for the discrepancy in life expectancy between the sexes.

Researchers said the substantial differences in life expectancy across educational groups at the age of 65 supported the idea of a flexible retirement age.

"This could mean that those with manual jobs might retire earlier," said Spörri.

swissinfo, Adam Beaumont

In brief

Only people in Japan and Monaco live longer than the Swiss. Life expectancy is 77.9 for a man and 83 for a woman.

The study was compiled using data from the 1990 census. Researchers examined information on 3.06 million Swiss Germans.

Differences between educational groups were most pronounced among young men, and were generally less important among women.

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