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a blog from young economists at Nova SBE

Does education improve your health?


Education is said to increase happiness and health.

First, education is likely to generate happiness.

The more people go to school and get diploma, the more likely they are to get the job they expect to have and that satisfies them. As a result, they are more engaged in their positions and they are happier in their lives as a whole. Indeed, according to psychologist Laura Carstensen, director of the Stanford Center on Longevity, people with more education have better jobs, associated with better wages, that are often less physically demanding and that usually deliver more satisfaction and pleasure.

Then, education is bound to improve health as it increases life expectancy and life conditions.

Indeed, people having more years of education are more likely to live longer. According to research used in the book How to live to 100, education is likely to be the single variable leading to health and longevity. As said above, people with higher education have the jobs that meet their expectations, which results in a comfort that is source of less stress, which increases their life expectancy. According to David Cutler and Adriana Lleras-Muney’s research on education-longevity around the world, college graduates can expect to live five years longer than people not having finished high school. Moreover, the number of years spent at school has an impact on life expectancy of next generation. Indeed, the infant mortality rate among US children born to women who did not graduate from high school is 8.1% while it is 4.2% among those born to women who did get a college degree.

Then, not only people going to school longer have a longer life but also are they living in better health conditions. Indeed, US people with four more years of education are less likely to have and die from chronic diseases such as a heart disease (-2.2%) and diabet (-1.3%). Moreover, they are less bound to be overweight (-5%) and to smoke (-12%). This tight relationship between years of schooling and health conditions can be explained by two main reasons. First, as the brain is like a muscle, the more people use it, the more they can hope for a lifelong mental health. Then, more years of education lead to higher wages that give easier access to healthy food and safer homes. For instance, a college degree gives access to highly-paid job with less physical working conditions and a better health insurance. Also, people with more education are likely to live in a safer and more comfortable neighborhood with healthy lifestyles that encourage them to follow this healthy way of living.

Nevertheless, going through various articles dealing with education and happiness, I was astonished not to read more research papers on hot topics linking highly-paid jobs and psychological health diseases, such as burnout. Indeed, higher education empowers people to get a highly-paid job, but such wages are justified by higher responsibilities at work. These often translate into stress and psychological pressure that can in the end reduce life expectancy or worsen life conditions (people live longer but they can be depressed or live with the consequences of a heart attack).

Zoé Gautheron



Author: studentnovasbe

Master student in Nova Sbe

2 thoughts on “Does education improve your health?

  1. The link between education and health condition is not complete without a reference to the Grossman’s model (1) for health demand, and further estimations of health production functions. While it is true that education improves health through improved live conditions, one of the key factors is increased efficiency. More educated individuals will make better decisions regarding healthcare and where to obtain it – no overlooked appointments, the best physicians, the best facilities, etc. Since the individuals are both producers and consumers of health in the model, it is easy to see how education can improve overall health through two channels: on the production side, increased knowledge improves both the efficiency of eventual medical treatments and the ability to avoid certain illnesses; on the consumption side, the demand for healthcare will be done more efficiently and the treatments employed are perceived to be the best available. In empirical terms, estimations have been done on the effect of education on the production of health, and it appears to be positive and significant (2). The channels through which this relationship works remain, however, inconclusive.

    Carla, #636

    1. Grossman, M. “On the Concept of Health Capital and the Demand for Health” JPE, Vol. 80, No. 2 (Mar. – Apr., 1972), pp. 223-255
    2. Kenkel, D. “Should You Eat Breakfast? Estimates from Health Production Functions” Health Economics Vol. 4 (1995), 15-29 pp. 15-29

  2. This is interesting. However, I wonder how much of the correlation between health and education is causal. I believe that in this case there is a great deal of endogeneity, in large part due to omitted variable bias. For instance, more educated people may have more money and better job benefits, meaning that they can afford better healthcare. This is particularly true for countries like the U.S. (which you cite) where healthcare is not universal. Furthermore, it is possible that there is an unobservable factor that makes more educated people prefer healthier lifestyles (e.g. eat less junk food). This unobservable factor, rather than education per se, may be one of the main culprits for the positive correlation. An example of this could be social class.

    Margarida Madaleno, 671