In a study, researchers found that a woman's education was a stronger factor in her husband's risk of dying over the next decade or so than the man's own level of education.
And a husband's social class based on his occupation had a greater influence on a woman's survival than her own occupational class, Drs. Robert Erikson and Jenny Torssander of the Swedish Institute for Social Research in Stockholm found.
Living with a partner is known to reduce a person's risk of dying early, Erikson noted in an interview with Reuters Health. And the current study, he added, suggests that one's choice of life partner may be an important part of the equation. The effect of a partner's social status is multidimensional, the researcher pointed out, with education, income, occupation and status each having an independent effect.
Erikson and Torssander looked at 1990 census data on more than 1.5 million employed men and women, 30 to 59 years old, who were living with a partner, along with cause of death data for the period 1991 to 2003.
As expected, for both men and women mortality was higher for less educated people and for those who made less money, while lower social status and working in a lower-level occupation were also tied to a greater risk of death.
Men who hadn't reached high school were 1.1 times more likely to die during follow-up than men who'd finished college. But the education of a man's partner had a stronger effect than his own schooling; men living with a woman without any high school education were 1.25 times more likely to die than men living with a college graduate.
The effect of women's education on their own mortality was strong too. But while a woman's own occupational class had little effect on her risk of death, women married to unskilled manual and routine non-manual laborers were 1.25 times more likely to die than women whose partners were in higher managerial and professional occupations.
Men's social class had less of an effect when the researchers accounted for income, the researchers note, while income was important in mortality for both women and men. "This points very clearly to material conditions in the household," Erikson said.
As far as women's education, Erikson and Torssander note in their report, "women traditionally take more responsibility for the home than men do, and, as a consequence, women's education might be more important for the family's lifestyle -- for example, in terms of food habits -- than men's education."
Erikson added: "We can assume that more highly educated women have better possibilities to find the important health messages that are around...There are lots of health messages in the media and I think some of them are important and some are just misleading."
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