Dear Mr. Dad: My son just finished his sophomore year of high school and has decided that he doesn’t want to graduate. My wife and I never finished high school and we’re doing okay—she’s a waitress and I’m an auto mechanic. Some of my friends (the ones who have college degrees) are telling me that it’s a mistake to let my son drop out. But I’m not convinced. What do you think?
A: Your friends are right. At the risk of being dramatic, the lack of a high-school diploma could actually kill your son. According to a recent report by the Population Reference Bureau, a 25-year old male without a high school diploma has another 44 years to live. But a high school grad can expect to live 51 more years, and a college grad will be around 57 more years (all of those numbers are about six years higher for women).
Sounds pretty crazy doesn’t, it? Well, here’s how it works. In general, if your son has a college degree, he’ll probably get a better-paying job than if he drops out now. Having a degree also increases the likelihood that he’ll have health insurance, which makes it more likely that he’ll get regular physicals, get age-appropriate health screenings, not smoke, exercise more, and see a doctor if he develops a health problem later.
To give you some specifics, people who don’t graduate high school are more likely than those with a college degree to suffer from depression, be missing their natural teeth, have two or more chronic health conditions, and be obese. Michael Grossman, who has done extensive research into the connection between education and health, sums it up quite nicely. ”Years of formal schooling completed is the most important correlate of good health.”
BUT COULD IT KILL YOU?
Okay, so not finishing high school and not getting a bachelor’s degree increases the chances that your son will have some health problems. But does that necessarily translate into increasing the chances that he’ll die? University of Colorado researcher Patrick M. Krueger, and colleagues from the University of North Carolina and New York University, looked into that question. They analyzed data from the U.S. Census and other sources and estimate that in 2010, 145,243 deaths were attributable to individuals not having graduated high school or earned a GED. Put a little differently, that’s about the same number of deaths that could be saved “if all current smokers had the mortality rates of former smokers,” says Krueger. They also estimated that 110,068 deaths among people who started college but didn’t finish could have been avoided had they gone on to earn their bachelor’s degree.
Of course, getting a college degree isn’t magic, and besides you and your wife, there are plenty of people who dropped out of college or didn’t go at all, including Bill Gates, Rush Limbaugh, Lady Gaga, Mark Zuckerberg, Lebron James and dozens of other athletes, and the creators of WordPress, Mashable, and Tumblr. But those people are the exception. For those of us who are mere mortals, education is really serious stuff.
If you’re at all able, it’s not too late to start taking some college classes. As for your son, email this article (or print it out if you’re old fashioned enough to own a printer) and help him come up with a plan to graduate high school and get at least a BA. Making sure your son gets a good education could very well be the best thing you could possibly do for him and future generations of your famil
Previously published on Mr. Dad
Photo: Getty Images
(via The Good Men Project)