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Educational inequalities in mortality have been observed for decades, however the underlying biological mechanisms are not well known. We assessed the mediating role of altered aging of immune cells functioning captured by DNA methylation changes in blood (known as epigenetic clocks) in educational associated all-cause mortality. Data were from eight prospective population-based cohort studies, representing 13,021 participants. We found educational inequalities in mortality were larger for men than for women, estimated by hazard differences and ratios. Epigenetic clocks explained approximately 50% of educational inequalities in mortality for men, while the proportion was small for women. Most of this mediation was explained by differential effects of unhealthy lifestyles and morbidities of the WHO risk factors for premature mortality. These results support DNA methylation-based epigenetic aging as a signature of educational inequalities in life expectancy emphasizing the need for policies to address the unequal social distribution of these WHO risk factors.

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