Sybil Low by Sybil Low

The prosperity of a booming U.S. economy hides an alarming divergence in life expectancy, deeply rooted in educational differences.

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Key Takeaways:

  • The U.S. is witnessing a deepening divide in life expectancy based on educational attainment.
  • While the economy thrives, the majority without college degrees suffer both economically and in longevity.
  • The country’s design has unintentionally created an elite class, sidelining working-class Americans.
  • Solutions may lie in broadening educational opportunities and restructuring societal systems that contribute to the divide.

The American dream, founded on the promise of prosperity and upward mobility, is now threatened by a widening gap. As life expectancy soars for the college-educated, it plunges for those without degrees, painting a disturbing picture of two Americas – one thriving, and one withering.

The Two Americas: Divided by Education

The current U.S. economy, by standard metrics, appears robust. With record highs in the stock market, declining inflation, and historic lows in unemployment, the facade of progress is compelling. But these numbers mask the reality. Recent surveys have shown that the majority of Americans believe their nation is on the wrong track, with poor life ratings hitting all-time highs.

The real discrepancy lies in the division of life experiences between those with and without college degrees. The college-educated segment of the population is enjoying economic prosperity. In stark contrast, those without such formal education are witnessing a life marred by economic struggle, decreasing longevity, and a concerning rise in mortality rates.

“Americans with four-year college degrees are flourishing economically, while those without are struggling.”

Almost two-thirds of adult Americans do not possess college degrees. This massive portion of the populace has been systematically excluded from lucrative jobs, political influence, and societal respect. And the consequence is severe: a decline in their life expectancy.

In the 1970s, Americans enjoyed a steady increase in life expectancy, on par with other affluent nations. However, the subsequent decades saw the U.S. falling behind its peers. Today, not only does the U.S. lag behind nations like Japan and Switzerland, but its life expectancy also pales in comparison to the lower-tier rich countries like Germany and the UK.

“Life expectancy at age 25 (adult life expectancy) for those with four-year college degrees rose to 59 years… But for those without college degrees… it was 49.8 years.”

Such startling statistics have long concerned experts. The pandemic only widened these disparities. But the crux of the issue predates COVID-19. The divide in life expectancies – with one group progressing and the other regressing – is eerily reminiscent of the scenario in Eastern European nations post the Soviet Union’s collapse.

The education-based divide isn’t limited to life expectancy. Since 1979, individuals with a college degree have seen their wages soar, while the rest witnessed stagnation. The financial disparity is further underscored by data revealing that today, 75% of wealth is in the hands of college graduates, a group that accounted for just 50% of the wealth three decades ago.

“Families without a member with a college degree had a median income that was only 4 percent higher in 2019 than in 1970, compared with 24 percent higher for families where at least one member had a college degree.”

Why is the U.S. facing such a crisis? Factors include the rise in corporate power at the expense of workers, decreasing competition, the weakening of unions, and a lack of worker mobility. The design of the American system has inadvertently fostered an elite class, leaving behind the working-class citizens, who are further burdened by health care costs, globalization, and automation.

“Other rich countries have been less prone to creating an elite class out of the college educated.”

Europe offers some valuable lessons. Their diverse educational qualifications, less expensive healthcare system, and broader safety nets seem to prevent such extreme disparities. The U.S. could benefit from policies that are inclusive and not purely centered on traditional college education.

America’s educational divide has given rise to concerning disparities in life expectancy. While the college-educated prosper, those without degrees are struggling, both economically and in terms of longevity. Addressing this divide is not just a moral imperative, but a necessity for the nation’s overall well-being.


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