Increased mortality and morbidity was seen in association with lower formal educational levels in 75 rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients over 9 years. Nine of the 20 patients with 8 or fewer years of education had died, compared to 10 of 34 with 9-12 years of education, and only one of 21 with more than 12 years of education. Among survivors with functional capacity data available from baseline and 9 year review, declines greater than 20% were seen in 8 of 10, 13 of 21, and 9 of 19 patients in the three education categories. Overall, 79% of grade-school educated, 43% of high-school educated, and 20% of college-educated patients had either died or declined more than 50% in functional capacity. Patients of different formal educational levels were similar at baseline in age, duration of disease, measures of functional capacity, number of involved hand joints, number of severe radiographic changes, use of gold, oral corticosteroids or other therapies, and associations between formal educational level and disease course are not explained by these variables. Formal educational level appears a simple quantitative marker which identifies a surrogate or composite variable associated with increased mortality and morbidity in RA.