A new study has shown that adults who don’t repay their college debts or take on additional educational debt between the ages of young adulthood and middle age are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.
The research findings were published in American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Individuals who had repaid student debt were healthier than those who didn’t. This suggests that student debt relief could lead to better health.
“Students and their parents have taken on more debt in order to afford college and to stay there. Student debt has become a huge financial burden for many Americans. However, we don’t know much about the long-term health effects of student debt.
“Previous research has shown that student debt burdens can be associated with self reported health and mental well-being in the short-term, so we were interested to see if student loan debt could be associated with cardiovascular illness in young adults in mid-life,” said Adam M. Lippert PhD, Department of Sociology at University of Colorado Denver.
Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health to Adult Health (Add Health) was used in the study. This panel study included 20,745 adolescents aged 7-12 who were first interviewed during 1994-1995. Wave 3 was for respondents aged 18-26, and Wave 5 was for respondents aged 22-44. Four additional waves of data were then collected. Wave 5 respondents were invited for in-home medical examinations.
Researchers evaluated the biological cardiovascular health of 4193 eligible respondents using the 30-year Framingham CVD risk score. This scores takes into account sex, gender, age and blood pressure. They also consider smoking status, diabetes diagnosis, and body weight index. C-reactive proteins (CRP), which is a biomarker of systemic or chronic inflammation, were also examined.
The following categories were used by the investigators to classify student debt: never had student loans; paid off student debt between Waves 3, 5 and 5, and took on student loan between waves. Modifications to the models were made for household and family characteristics, such as education, income, and any other demographics.
Researchers found that 37% of respondents didn’t report student debt. Only 12% had paid off student loans. 28% took on student debt and 24% had constant student debt. Respondents who had a history of taking on or having debt were more likely to have higher CVD risk scores that those who aren’t in debt, and those who have paid down their debt.
It was interesting to note that respondents who had paid off their debt scores had lower CVD risk scores than those who were not in debt. Clinically significant CRP value estimates were found for those who had taken on new debt or were in constant debt from young adulthood to early mid-life. These estimates were significantly higher than the estimates of their counterparts who didn’t have debt or who paid it off. Results were not affected by race/ethnicity.
Supplemental analyses indicated that degree completion can provide health benefits even for those with student loans, but these benefits were smaller than those without student debt.
Dr Lippert pointed out that these findings underline the potential consequences of a US debt-financed education for the health of the American population. These benefits come at a cost to borrowers, even though the empirical evidence supports the economic and medical benefits of a college education.
“Our respondents were young and attended college in a time when student loans were rapidly increasing. The average four-year college graduate had a debt of $25,000.” It has increased more in the past, leaving young cohorts having more student debt than ever before,” Dr Lippert explained.
“Unless you do something to reduce college costs and forgive any outstanding debts, the health implications of student loan debt growth are likely to increase.”