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Less Than High School Education


Individuals whose highest educational attainment does not exceed the high school level. These individuals have less than a high school diploma or an equivalent certification.


The education attainment of an individual is significantly linked both directly and indirectly to the health outcomes experienced by that individual. A person’s health can directly interfere with their academic performance, such as their ability to learn, attend school, and focus in class. Education levels are also connected to types of employment, and those with higher levels of education may be placed in jobs that provide higher salaries and more benefits from employer-sponsored health insurance to gym memberships. Furthermore, individuals with lower education levels may have limited ability to interpret information about their health. Health illiteracy can contribute to a higher prevalence of unhealthy behaviors and a lower likelihood of engaging in preventive health practices, such as regular check-ups and screenings. Finally, education level is also connected to the built environment through neighborhood characteristics. Individuals with less education are more likely to live in low-income neighborhoods that lack resources that promote health. For instance, under-resourced neighborhoods may lack access to grocery stores, green spaces, healthcare clinics, and high-quality schools.

Individuals with higher levels of education have been shown to have better health outcomes and life expectancy, and limited education has been linked to disparities in health. For instance, adults without a high school diploma or equivalent degree have a higher prevalence of obesity when compared to adults with higher education attainment. Moreover, the physical characteristics of a school, along with school curriculum and teacher-student relationships, also have an impact on one’s educational journey and impact the physical, mental, and emotional health of students. In schools that offer mainly academic courses and few nonacademic courses, students are less likely to drop out. Similarly, students in schools enrolling fewer than 1,500 students more often stay in school. Most importantly, students are less likely to drop out of high schools where relationships between teachers and students are positive. The impact of positive relations, however, is contingent on the organizational and structural characteristics of high schools. For example, smaller schools often foster a more nurturing environment where positive relationships can have a profound influence, whereas larger institutions might face challenges in fostering close connections.

Data Collection Methodology

The American Community Survey (ACS) is a nationwide survey that collects information on the demographic, social, economic, and housing characteristics of the US population. The ACS is an ongoing survey sent to 3.5 million addresses each year. The ACS provides data on educational attainment in the U.S., including the percentage of the population with less than a high school education. The ACS determines data on educational attainment by asking the question: “What is the highest degree or level of school this person has completed?”.


Click here for References
  1. Less than High School Education Data Source: US Census Bureau. ACS: Less than High School Education. Data year 2019. Accessed April 2023.
  2. Moorthy A, Figinski T, Lloro A. Revisiting the effect of education on later life health. Finance and Economics Discussion Series 2022-007. Washington: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Published 2022.
  3. Lee V, Burkam D. Dropping out of high school: The role of school organization and structure. American Educational Research Journal. 2003;40(2):353-393. Doi: 10.3102/00028312040002353.
  4. US Census Bureau. About Educational Attainment. Revised November 20, 2021. Accessed October 19, 2023.
  5. Eitland E, Klingensmith L, MacNaughton P, et al. Schools For Health. 2017. Accessed October 19, 2023.
  6. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). New Adult Obesity Maps. Published September 21, 2023. Accessed October 19, 2023.
  7. Cutler D D, Lleras-Muney A. Education and Health. In: Encyclopedia of Health Economics. (Culyer A, ed.). Elsevier; 2014:232-245.
  8. Olshansky SJ, Antonucci T, Berkman L, et al. Differences in Life Expectancy Due to Race and Educational Differences Are Widening, and Many May Not Catch up. Health Affairs. 2012;31(8):1803-1813. doi:10.1377/hlthaff.2011.0746
  9. Montez JK, Berkman LF. Trends in the educational gradient of mortality among US adults aged 45 to 84 years: bringing regional context into the explanation. Am J Public Health. 2014;104(1):e82-e90. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301526