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Postsecondary Education Linked to Volunteerism, Better Health

Postsecondary Education Linked to Volunteerism, Better Health

Story Highlights

  • U.S. adults with postsecondary education far more likely to donate, volunteer
  • Americans with higher educational attainment report having better physical health
  • Education found to have a meaningful link to 50 of 52 positive outcomes

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans with at least some formal education beyond high school are far more civically engaged than those with no postsecondary education, in terms of both volunteering and giving money to charity.

Charitable giving rates are higher at each successive level of educational attainment, rising from 38% of those with no more than a high school degree to 77% of those with a graduate degree. Volunteerism nearly doubles between non-college-goers (14%) and those with at least some postsecondary education (27%) or who have an associate degree (27%). It increases further to 38% among those with a bachelor’s degree and 47% with a graduate degree.


Higher Levels of Education Linked to Better Physical Health

In addition to showing much higher levels of civic engagement, Americans with education beyond high school also report having better physical health.

Sixty-one percent of bachelor’s degree holders rate their health as excellent or very good, compared with 43% of U.S. adults who have not pursued education beyond high school. The education-health link is apparent even after controlling for other factors that are related to health, such as age, gender, race and ethnicity.


These are a few of the notable findings from the Lumina Foundation-Gallup “Education for What?” report. The report seeks to quantify the potential holistic benefits of postsecondary education beyond those that are obvious and well-documented, like higher incomes and increased cognitive ability. Gallup employed a variety of existing data sources, primarily Gallup surveys and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Surveys, to analyze the effect of education on a range of outcomes in the domains of work and income, physical and mental health, civic engagement, social capital, and cognitive ability, among others.

In all, Gallup tested the relationship between education and 52 separate desirable outcomes. In 50 of these areas, there was a meaningful statistical relationship between educational attainment and the outcome, after taking into account the effects of other demographics. Education had the largest effects on cognitive ability, a measure of persistence (respondent reports of whether some of their achievements required years of preparation), self-reports of having a job that fits with a person’s talent and interests, and voting, volunteerism and health ratings.

Additional analysis found that the educational effects were generally similar among different racial, ethnic and age groups.

For the full results, please see the report.

Public Tends to Agree: Increased Education Benefits Society in Many Ways

As part of the study, Gallup also surveyed U.S. adults in November 2022 to measure the extent to which they believe that a more educated society can help produce desirable outcomes for individuals and society. The outcomes tested include higher incomes, increased citizen participation, more business creation, and better mental and physical health.

Majorities of Americans agree that additional education helps to produce 14 of the 19 desirable conditions, particularly fostering innovation and discovery, raising income levels and creating a more knowledgeable citizenry.


Although the link between higher educational attainment and better health has been found in prior studies, Americans are less aware that this relationship exists.

Bottom Line

Given the rising cost of degree completion and concerns about mounting student-loan debt, many parents, prospective students, business and political leaders are reexamining the value proposition of postsecondary education, particularly four-year college degrees.

Convincing reluctant parents, students and leaders about the value of education beyond high school may rest partly on making the case for the intrinsic benefits of a credential or degree beyond the obvious economic ones. Greater community involvement and better health, for example, not only benefit individuals by improving their personal wellbeing and quality of life, but also contribute to the betterment of society.

Communicating these and other benefits could be critical in reversing the downturn in college enrollment nationally and ensuring that larger percentages of Americans are able to realize these economic and noneconomic benefits.

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Learn more about the Lumina Foundation-Gallup study.


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