Cross-National and Cross-Generational Evidence That Educational Attainment May Slow the Pace of Aging in European-Descent Individuals

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2023 Aug 2;78(8):1375-1385. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbad056.


Objectives: Individuals with more education are at lower risk of developing multiple, different age-related diseases than their less-educated peers. A reason for this might be that individuals with more education age slower. There are 2 complications in testing this hypothesis. First, there exists no definitive measure of biological aging. Second, shared genetic factors contribute toward both lower educational attainment and the development of age-related diseases. Here, we tested whether the protective effect of educational attainment was associated with the pace of aging after accounting for genetic factors.

Methods: We examined data from 5 studies together totaling almost 17,000 individuals with European ancestry born in different countries during different historical periods, ranging in age from 16 to 98 years old. To assess the pace of aging, we used DunedinPACE, a DNA methylation algorithm that reflects an individual's rate of aging and predicts age-related decline and Alzheimer's disease and related disorders. To assess genetic factors related to education, we created a polygenic score based on the results of a genome-wide association study of educational attainment.

Results: Across the 5 studies, and across the life span, higher educational attainment was associated with a slower pace of aging even after accounting for genetic factors (meta-analysis effect size = -0.20; 95% confidence interval [CI]: -0.30 to -0.10; p = .006). Further, this effect persisted after taking into account tobacco smoking (meta-analysis effect size = -0.13; 95% CI: -0.21 to -0.05; p = .01).

Discussion: These results indicate that higher levels of education have positive effects on the pace of aging, and that the benefits can be realized irrespective of individuals' genetics.

Keywords: Education; Epigenetic clocks; Pace of aging.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Academic Success*
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / genetics
  • Educational Status
  • Genome-Wide Association Study*
  • Humans