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Less Than High School Education
Less Than High School Education in United States
United States

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United States Value:


Percentage of population ages 25 and older without a high school diploma

Less Than High School Education in depth:

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Less Than High School Education by State

Percentage of population ages 25 and older without a high school diploma

Less Than High School Education Trends

Percentage of population ages 25 and older without a high school diploma

Trend: Less Than High School Education in United States, 2023 Annual Report

Percentage of population ages 25 and older without a high school diploma

United States

 U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey

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About Less Than High School Education

US Value: 10.4%

Top State(s): Vermont: 5.0%

Bottom State(s): California: 15.3%

Definition: Percentage of population ages 25 and older without a high school diploma

Data Source and Years: U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, 2022

Suggested Citation: America's Health Rankings analysis of U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, United Health Foundation,, accessed 2023.

Keeping children and adolescents in school through high school graduation and beyond is a key strategy to advance health equity. Educational attainment is a strong predictor of future health outcomes. The connection between education and health is well documented — lower educational attainment among adults is correlated with poorer health, while higher educational attainment is associated with better jobs, higher earnings, increased health knowledge, better self-reported health and fewer chronic conditions. Individuals with lower educational attainment are at greater risk of adverse health outcomes such as obesity, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, mental health problems and premature death

According to one study, investments to reduce education-related disparities could save up to 8 times more lives than equal investments in medical advances. Compared with high school graduates, individuals who do not complete high school are estimated to cost the United States more than $272,000 in lower tax contributions, higher use of government assistance and other expenses over their lifetime.

The high school graduation rate is lower among:

Several high school completion programs have been successful in improving high school graduation rates by targeting high-risk populations. Programs aimed at increasing high school graduation rates — and ultimately health equity — include: 

  • Vocational training and alternative schooling.
  • Social-emotional skills training.
  • College-oriented programming, mentoring and counseling.
  • Attendance monitoring and case management.
  • Community service opportunities.

According to one study, interventions to increase high school graduation rates should target health-related and socioeconomic barriers to graduation. These include absenteeism, developmental delay due to chronic stress, chronic illness, poverty, hunger, homelessness and teen pregnancy. The expansion of school-based health centers can help address these barriers.

Increasing the proportion of students who graduate in four years with a regular diploma is a Healthy People 2030 adolescent health objective.

American Public Health Association. “The Dropout Crisis: A Public Health Problem and the Role of School-Based Health Care.” Washington, D.C.: APHA Center for School, Health and Education, February 2018.

Cutler, David, and Adriana Lleras-Muney. “Education and Health.” Policy Brief #9. Ann Arbor, MI: National Poverty Center, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at University of Michigan, March 2007.

———. “Education and Health: Evaluating Theories and Evidence.” NBER Working Paper 12352. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2006.

DeBaun, Bill, and Martens Roc. “Well and Well-Off: Decreasing Medicaid and Health-Care Costs by Increasing Educational Attainment.” Washington, D.C.: Alliance for Excellent Education, July 2013.

Hahn, Robert A., John A. Knopf, Sandra Jo Wilson, Benedict I. Truman, Bobby Milstein, Robert L. Johnson, Jonathan E. Fielding, et al. “Programs to Increase High School Completion: A Community Guide Systematic Health Equity Review.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine 48, no. 5 (March 26, 2015): 599–608.

Irwin, Véronique, Ke Wang, Tabitha Tezil, Jijun Zhang, Alison Filbey, Julie Jung, Farrah Bullock Mann, et al. “Report on the Condition of Education 2023.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, August 2023.

Lansford, Jennifer E., Kenneth A. Dodge, Gregory S. Pettit, and John E. Bates. “A Public Health Perspective on School Dropout and Adult Outcomes: A Prospective Study of Risk and Protective Factors From Age 5 to 27 Years.” Journal of Adolescent Health 58, no. 6 (March 19, 2016): 652–58.

Lundborg, Petter. “The Health Returns to Schooling—What Can We Learn from Twins?” Journal of Population Economics 26, no. 2 (2013): 673–701.

McFarland, Joel, Jiashan Cui, Juliet Holmes, and Xiaolei Wang. “Trends in High School Dropout and Completion Rates in the United States: 2019.” Compendium Report. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, January 2020.

Vamos, Sandra, Orkan Okan, Tetine Sentell, and Irving Rootman. “Making a Case for ‘Education for Health Literacy’: An International Perspective.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health 17, no. 4 (February 24, 2020): 1436.

“Why Education Matters to Health: Exploring the Causes.” Issue Brief #2. Education and Health Initiative. Richmond, VA: The VCU Center on Society and Health and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, April 2014.

Woolf, Steven H., Robert E. Johnson, Robert L. Phillips Jr., and Maike Philipsen. “Giving Everyone the Health of the Educated: An Examination of Whether Social Change Would Save More Lives than Medical Advances.” American Journal of Public Health 97, no. 4 (April 2007): 679–83.

Current Reports

America’s Health Rankings builds on the work of the United Health Foundation to draw attention to public health and better understand the health of various populations. Our platform provides relevant information that policymakers, public health officials, advocates and leaders can use to effect change in their communities.

We have developed detailed analyses on the health of key populations in the country, including women and children, seniors and those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, in addition to a deep dive into health disparities across the country.