NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Health, Income, and Education among Military Retirees

Education acquired during military service improves health, but by less than if the additional years of education had been acquired before joining the military.

In Health, Income, and the Timing of Education among Military Retirees (NBER Working Paper No. 15778), Ryan Edwards examines differences in the timing of educational attainment among male military retirees to explore how education affects personal health and income. His data come from the 2003 Survey of Retired Military, which asked approximately 30,000 retirees to report their income, home ownership, disabilities, Veterans Administration disability classification, and health status. It also asked respondents to report their levels of educational attainment when they entered the military, when they retired from the military, and at the time of the survey.

Edwards finds that the positive association between education and health declines with the age at which the schooling is completed, by about 0.5 percent per decade of age. Education acquired during military service improves health, but by less than if the additional years of education had been acquired before joining the military. Education acquired after retiring from the military has little to any significant effect on health." And, although these findings may reflect selection -- that is, officers enter the military with a college degree while enlisted men typically do not, for example -- the pattern of sharp reductions in the protective effect of education through age actually was stronger among officers.

Comparing the health effect of education with its income effect is also revealing. Edwards finds that vintages of education affect income differently than they affect health. Schooling has a positive and roughly constant effect on earnings as long as it is acquired either before or during military service: "[e]arnings rise 5.5 percent with each year of education prior to service, then rise 5.8 percent with each year during service." After retirement, additional education continues to raise earnings but by a smaller amount. One additional year of education raises household income by 6.4 percent if acquired prior to service, by 6.1 percent if acquired during service, and by 2.7 percent if acquired after retirement from active duty. Edwards concludes that "both early and later life education are interchangeably important for income and wealth, while early-life education is much more valuable for health." The upshot is that the protective effect of education on health in old age appears to derive from the lifelong accumulation of healthy knowledge and behaviors, rather than from flows of income.

-- Linda Gorman

The Digest is not copyrighted and may be reproduced freely with appropriate attribution of source.
 
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