Diabetes could affect wages, jobs for young people

The health consequences of diabetes are well known for young people, but there may be more outcomes of the disease: a worse job outlook and lower wages.

The findings come from a study published in the January issue of the journal Health Affairs. Researchers, focusing on the nonmedical effects diabetes has on teens and young adults, found that overall, people with diabetes have a high school dropout rate 6% higher than those who don’t have the disease.

Data on about 15,000 people were examined from four waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The first wave included students in grade seven through 12; they were interviewed again about a year, seven years and 14 years later. The diabetes prevalence rate was 2.6%.

After controlling for a number of factors, researchers found that those with diabetes finished about three fewer months of schooling compared with those without the disease. Once they hit the working world, those with diabetes had employment reductions of 8% to 11%, and a decrease in yearly earnings of $1,500 to $6,000. If that discrepancy stayed the same over the years, it could translate into a lifetime earning penalty of $160,000 per person over 40 years.


But the fallout from diabetes doesn’t just happen to those who have the condition. Researchers also found that having a mother or father with diabetes lowers the possibility of going to college by 4% to 6%, even when they controlled for the child’s health status.

As for why diabetics might be at a disadvantage in the job market, the study authors offered some theories: the condition could dampen their career aspirations, and employers might be less willing to invest in them.

Diabetes might also cause people to get into a “job lock” situation in which workers stay at lower paying jobs because they fear losing their health insurance.

“Diabetes has a marked effect on schooling and earnings early in life,” said lead author Jason Fletcher of Yale University in a news release, “yet these are relatively unexamined implications of this disease.”