Does Education improve Health?
More educated people live longer, perceive themselves as healthier and also behave more health-conscious by, for instance, smoking less frequently. But it is far from settled, whether this correlation reflects a causal effect of education. If this was the case, a targeted educational policy could improve public health while reaping the other numerous beneficial effects of education.
The challenge for researchers is to disentangle other possible explanations for the strong correlation between education and health. In the economic literature, for instance, an alternative explanation is related to people's planning horizon. People with a long planning horizon are known to invest more both in their education and their health. Consequently, researchers would detect a strong correlation between education and health. In this case, however, the correlation could not be interpreted as being causal.
MEA researchers investigate the causal effect of years of schooling on health by taking advantage of a ‘natural experiment' based on the prolonging of compulsory basic track schooling from eight to nine years between 1949 and 1969. Since education policy is in the hands of state governments, the reform took place at different points in time. This circumstance enables researchers to identify the effect of education on people who were forced to remain at school longer.
The results are surprising: On one hand, education does have a positive effect on health - but only for men. Partially this may be explained by the stronger influence education has on career choices among men than women. In fact, the labour participation among women in the observed cohorts was relatively low. Furthermore, education reduces the probability of suffering from obesity for men and women likewise. On the other hand, no evidence for a causal effect of education on smoking behaviour was found.
MEA Discussion Paper: 200-10 Daniel Kemptner, Hendrik Jürges, Steffen Reinhold
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