While education-based disparities in health are common, the extent to which chronic conditions contribute to education gaps and to consequent health disparities is not fully understood. As such, we sought to investigate educational aspirations, expectations, and attainment among youth with and without chronic conditions and to determine if these relationships mediated subsequent disparities in health and well-being.
Longitudinal data on 3,518 youths are from the 1997-2013 Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a population-based survey. Multivariate regression was used to assess disparities in educational aspirations, expectations, and attainment by chronic conditionsand the subsequent effects on health and well-being, adjusting for important potential confounders.
Youth with chronic medical conditions (YCMCs) did not report significantly lower educational aspirations than their healthy peers; however, YCMC reported lower expectations for their educational attainment and fewer YCMC had earned their desired degree by the end of follow-up (e.g., ≥bachelor's degree: 19.9% for YCMC vs. 26.0% for peers, p < .05). YCMC reported significantly worse general health, lower life satisfaction, and lower psychological well-being in young adulthood than did their healthy peers. These disparities persisted after adjustment for confounders; the association between chronic disease and health was partially, but significantly, mediated by actual educational attainment.
Findings suggest an important risk mechanism through which YCMC may acquire socioeconomic disadvantage as they develop and progress through educational settings. Disproportionate lags in education, from expectation to attainment, may in turn increase YCMC's susceptibility to poor health and well-being in the future.