Degrees of health disparities: health status disparities between young adults with high school diplomas, sub-baccalaureate degrees, and baccalaureate degrees

  • Janet Rosenbaum


Community colleges have increased post-secondary educational access for disadvantaged youth, but it is unknown how community college degrees fit into the educational gradient of health status disparities. Using data from high school graduates in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we compared young adults ages 26–31 whose highest degrees were high school diplomas (n = 5,584), sub-baccalaureate credentials (sub-BAs include community college certificates and associate’s degrees) (n = 2,415), and baccalaureate degrees (BAs) (n = 3,303) on measures of hypertension, obesity, smoking, sleep problems, dyslipidemia, and depression. Comparisons used multivariate Poisson regression with robust standard errors after exact and nearest-neighbor Mahalanobis matching within propensity score calipers on 23 baseline factors measured in 1995. High school graduates and sub-BAs differed significantly on 3 of 23 baseline factors. After matching, sub-BAs were 16 % less likely to smoke daily than if they had only a high school diploma but did not differ in other health status measures. Sub-BAs and BAs differed significantly on 14 of 23 baseline factors. After matching, BAs were 60 % less likely to smoke daily, 14 % less likely to be obese, and 38 % less likely to have been diagnosed with depression. Sub-BA degrees are accessible to high school graduates irrespective of academic backgrounds and predict lower smoking prevalence. BAs are less accessible to high school graduates and predict lower chances of smoking, depression, and obesity.


Health status disparities Educational status Propensity scores Cohort studies Young adults 



This research was funded by the American Institutes for Research, the American Educational Research Association, and the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Center for Child Health and Human Development grant R24-HD041041 (Maryland Population Research Center). The author thanks Ofer Harel, Sandra Hofferth, Jonathan Joshua, James Rosenbaum, Juned Siddique, and Elizabeth Stuart for helpful conversations, as well as anonymous referees and seminar participants at the International Conference on Health Policy Statistics, Washington University in St. Louis, University of California at Davis, Indiana University, Villanova University, and Portland State University.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Maryland Population Research Center, 0124 N Cole Student Activities BuildingUniversity of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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