Smoking Rates by Education Level, 1940–2008

Smoking rates among college graduates have been significantly lower than smoking rates among other adults since information about the risks became public.

Figure 1.16a: Smoking Rates Among Individuals Ages 25 and Older, by Education Level, 1940–2008

Figure 1.16a: Smoking Rates by Education Level, 1940–2008

Notes & Sources 

Note: Data for 2001 and after are three-year moving averages.

Sources: DeWalque, 2004; National Center for Health Statistics, 2009, Table 61; NCHS, 2008; calculations by the authors.

  • Smoking rates in the United States increased in the 1940s, leveled off at about 45% in the 1950s, and began a steady decline in the late 1960s. College graduates were at least as likely as others to smoke before the medical consensus on the dangers of smoking became clear.
  • By 1970, when information was widespread and clear public warnings were mandatory, the smoking rate among college graduates had declined to 37%, while 44% of high school graduates smoked.
  • Over the decade from 1998 to 2008, the smoking rate continued to decline rapidly for adults with at least some college experience, but more slowly for others. The percentage of four-year college graduates who smoked declined from 14% to 9%, while the rate for high school graduates declined from 29% to 27%.