Why is the educational gradient of mortality steeper for men?

Jennifer Karas Montez, Mark D. Hayward, Dustin C. Brown, Robert A. Hummer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

73 Scopus citations


Objectives.It is often documented that the educational gradient of mortality is steeper for men than for women; yet, the explanation remains a matter of debate. We examine gender differences in the gradients within the context of marriage to determine whether overall differences reflect gender differences in health behaviors or a greater influence of men's education on spousal health.Methods.We used data from the 1986 through 1996 National Health Interview Survey Linked Mortality Files for non-Hispanic White adults aged 55-84 years at the time of survey. We estimated Cox proportional hazards models to examine the gradients (N=180,208).Results.The educational gradient of mortality is marginally steeper for men than for women when aggregating across marital statuses; yet, this reflects a steeper gradient among unmarried men, with low-educated never married men exhibiting high levels of mortality. The gradient among unmarried men is steeper than unmarried women for causes that share smoking as a major risk factor, supporting a behavioral explanation for differences in the gradient. No gender difference in the gradient is observed for married adults.DiscussionLow education and unmarried status exert a synergistic effect on men's mortality. Unmarried, low-educated men may lack social supports that encourage positive health behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)625-634
Number of pages10
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • Education
  • Gender
  • Gradient
  • Marriage
  • Mortality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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