The economic value of improving the health of disadvantaged Americans

Am J Prev Med. 2011 Jan;40(1 Suppl 1):S67-72. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2010.09.032.


Background: Higher educational attainment is associated with better health status and longer life.

Purpose: This analysis estimates the annual dollar value of the benefits that would accrue to less-educated American adults if they experienced the lower mortality rates and better health of those with a college education.

Methods: Using estimates of differences in mortality among adults aged ≥ 25 years by educational attainment from the National Longitudinal Mortality Survey and of education-based differentials in health status from published studies based on the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, combined with existing estimates of the economic value of a healthy life year, the economic value of raising the health of individuals with less than a college education to the health of the college educated is estimated.

Results: The annual economic value that would accrue to disadvantaged (less-educated) Americans if their health and longevity improved to that of college-educated Americans is $1.02 trillion.

Conclusions: This modeling exercise does not fully account for the social costs and benefits of particular policies and programs to reduce health disparities; rather, it provides a sense of the magnitude of the economic value lost in health disparities to compare with other social issues vying for attention. The aggregate economic gains from interventions that improve the health of disadvantaged Americans are potentially large.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Educational Status
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Life Expectancy
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Econometric
  • Quality-Adjusted Life Years
  • Social Class*
  • United States
  • Universities / economics