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Does Level of Education or Age Matter for Social Security Disability or SSI?

Age will play a role in determining decisions on disability claims but usually comes into play when a person is older, either fitting into the fifty and above age range, or the fifty-five and above age range. These are the points at which age becomes more of a consideration and age can provide a benefit for someone who has relatively more functional limitations and, correspondingly, less education and fewer job skills.

Your level of education does a play a role in the evaluation process used by both the social security disability and SSI disability programs. However, the effect of one's education level is not nearly as much as many people would assume. And there are many cases in which educational level does not even enter into the process.

These cases, of course, are those in which a claimant is approved on the basis of satisfying the requirements of a listing in the blue book (the social security disability list of impairments).

When cases are approved this way, it is because their medical records provide detailed enough information which conforms to the disability approval criteria of a specific listing, such as, for example, lupus or bipolar disorder, or degenerative disc disease. Most cases that are eventually approved are not approved because a listing has been met. So how are most social security disability and SSI cases approved?

Most claims are approved through a sequential evaluation process that involves examining the claimant's medical records and work history information. The objective is to determine how limited--physically or mentally, or both--the person is (note: the limitations are rated on either a residual functional capacity form or a mental residual functional capacity form) and then compare this assessment to their relevant work history.

The goal for the adjudicator, a disability examiner or a federally appointed judge, will be to decide whether or not the claimant can go back to work at a substantial and gainful level, either at a job they've done in the past, or doing some type of new and other work for which their skills and training may allow a successful transition.

When cases are approved in this manner, meaning that a claimant is given a medical vocational allowance, level of education is one of the factors considered--along with the claimant's age, level of functional capacity (less than sedentary, sedentary, light, medium), and their level of skills (unskilled or no skills, skilled or semi-skilled with the skills not being transferrable to some type of other work, skilled or semi-skilled with the skills being transferrable to some type of other work).

However, speaking as a former disability examiner and as someone with a history of involvement in the representation of disability claims, education level is seldom ever a deciding factor.

For the most part, when disability examiners and social security judges use the grids (the disability rules for directing outcomes of cases that do not satisfy listing requirements), the only important distinction that will typically enter into the decisional process is whether or not the claimant has a high school education or less.

This is important to point out because many claimants with advanced degrees (bachelors, masters, etc) who have been denied for disability benefits will assume that their disability denial was based on their level of education. However, the real answer is that beyond their having a high school diploma, their level of education ceased to be a consideration.

So, in answer to the question, one's level of education does get considered in the social security evaluation process. However, it seldom has any real effect on a decision unless the individual is either of advanced age (ages 60-64) or is closely approaching advanced age (ages 50-54) AND also has a low level of education AND a low level of job skills.

For individuals who are in their forties or younger and are unskilled and illiterate would not be approved for disability unless their condition limited them to less than sedentary work or made them incapable of performing sustained, routine, repetitive tasks.

  • What medical conditions will get you approved for disability?

  • What kind of Mental Problems Qualify for Disability?

  • Which conditions will social security recognize as a disability?

  • Tips for getting Social Security Disability or SSI benefits approved

  • SSDRC Homepage:

    Social Security Disability and SSI Resource Center

    The Most Basic questions about Getting Disability Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI and whether or not you can work

    Common Mistakes to avoid after being denied for Disability

    Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    More Social Security Disability SSI Questions and Answers

    Common Questions about Social Security Disability and SSI

    Winning Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    The SSI Disability Benefits Program

    Medical exams for disability claims

    Applying for Disability in various states

    Social Security Disability SSI and Doctors - Yours and Theirs

    Social Security Disability and SSI Claim Reviews

    Social Security Disability SSI System and Benefits for Children

    Denials, Appeals, and Getting a Disability Lawyer or Representative

    What you should know about Social Security Disability and SSI Denials

    Questions about Disability Lawyers and Hiring a Disability Attorney

    Frequently asked questions about getting Denied for Disability Benefits

    FAQ on Disability Claim Representation

    Disability hearings before Judges

    Selecting and hiring Disability Lawyers

    Various Types of Benefits including SSI, Mental, and Child benefits

    Social Security and SSI based on Mental Disability

    Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits for Children

    Disability Benefits through Social Security

    Filing for Social Security Disability or SSI Benefits

    Social Security Disability SSI: Medical Evidence and Records

    Filing your claim for disability benefits

    Eligibility for receiving disability benefits

    Info about Social Security Disability Approvals and Being Approved

    FAQ on Social Security Disability SSI decisions

    The SSD SSI Decision Process and what gets taken into consideration

    Resources on this site

    Social Security Disability, SSI Terms and Definitions

    Previously answered questions regarding SSD and SSI

    For Individuals living in North Carolina

    Applying for Disability in North Carolina

    North Carolina Disability Lawyer

    These pages answer some of the most basic questions for individuals who are considering filing a claim.

    Filing an application for disability
    Filing for disability - where to go
    How to qualify for disability
    Qualifying for disability
    Winning disability benefits, how to win
    Winning disability for a mental condition
    Social Security Disability Back pay, SSD, SSI
    Disability Criteria and requirements
    Social Security Disability For Back Condition pain in California
    How much can you make in California and still apply for disability?
    Disability requirements and criteria in California