This study computes years and proportion of life that older adults living in the U.S. can expect to live pain free and in different pain states, by age, sex, and level of education. The analysis addresses challenges related to dynamics and mortality selection when studying associations between education and pain in older populations.
Data are from National Health and Aging Trends Study, 2011-2020. The sample contains 10,180 respondents who are age 65 and older. Pain expectancy estimates are computed using the Interpolative Markov Chain software that applies probability transitions to multistate life tables.
Those with higher educational levels expect not only a longer life but also a higher proportion of life without pain. For example, a 65-year-old female with less than high school education expects 18.1 years in total and 5.8 years, or 32% of life, without pain compared to 23.7 years in total with 10.7 years, or 45% of life without pain if she completed college. The education gradient in pain expectancies is more salient for females than males and narrows at the oldest ages. There is no educational disparity in the percent of life with non-limiting pain.
Education promotes longer life and more pain-free years, but the specific degree of improvement by education varies across demographic groups. More research is needed to explain associations between education and more and less severe and limiting aspects of pain.