This Short Communication builds on recent findings that documented an anomaly in the education–health gradient: adults who attended college but did not earn a BA (the subbaccalaureate group) reported an equal or higher level of health problems than adults with high school (HS) diploma. Our aim is to test whether this anomaly holds when we eliminate potential reporting differences, by examining biomarker levels in the subbaccalaureate vs HS groups.
Using the restricted 1999–2012 NHANES, we estimate models of biomarkers for cardiovascular and metabolic diseases as a function of educational attainment, including three subbaccalaureate levels: “some college”, vocational associate degree (AA), and academic AA.
The data show that adults with “some college” or vocational AA have no systematic advantage over HS graduates in most biomarker indices while academic AA is associated with a significantly better risk profile compared to HS. The findings indicate that the adults with some college and vocational AA degrees do not benefit from their college experience in terms of improved physiological risk profile.
This pattern underscores the need to understand and explain the anomalous health pattern that concerns 28% of American adults in the subbaccalaureate group among whom many reap little health payoffs to postsecondary schooling.