After compensating for potential confounding factors, such as other illnesses and family background, the investigators found that people with diabetes completed an average of one-quarter of a school year less than their peers without diabetes.
The researchers also found that having diabetes significantly increased the risk of dropping out of high school, by an average of 6 percent. In addition, people with diabetes were between 8 percent and 13 percent less likely to attend college.
Surprisingly, having a parent with diabetes also seems to impact education and earnings, lowering the chances of attending college by another 4 percent to 6 percent.
Once out of school, having diabetes appears to affect earnings as well. Over a 40-year work lifetime, the study found that people with diabetes make $160,000 less per person than do people without the disease.
Though the study wasn't designed to explore the reasons behind the differences, Fletcher said there are likely many factors at play.
During their school years, people with diabetes tend to have more frequent absences, and while in any given year such absences might not seem like much, they can add up to a substantial amount of missed schooling over time, Fletcher explained.
Absences may also cost people with diabetes in terms of earnings, said Fletcher. And, if someone with diabetes has dropped out of school, it's likely they would earn less at work. Another possibility is something called "job lock," according to the study authors. Fletcher said this occurs when people with diabetes feel like they can't leave their job, even if they don't like it, because they are afraid of losing their health insurance.
"I was surprised and disturbed by the study's findings," said William Polonsky, CEO of the Behavioral Diabetes Institute and an associate clinical professor in psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego.
But, he pointed out, "if these find
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