NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Education and Health: Evaluating Theories and Evidence

David M. Cutler, Adriana Lleras-Muney

NBER Working Paper No. 12352
Issued in July 2006
NBER Program(s):   ED   HC   AG

There is a large and persistent association between education and health. In this paper, we review what is known about this link. We first document the facts about the relationship between education and health. The education ‘gradient’ is found for both health behaviors and health status, though the former does not fully explain the latter. The effect of education increases with increasing years of education, with no evidence of a sheepskin effect. Nor are there differences between blacks and whites, or men and women. Gradients in behavior are biggest at young ages, and decline after age 50 or 60. We then consider differing reasons why education might be related to health. The obvious economic explanations – education is related to income or occupational choice – explain only a part of the education effect. We suggest that increasing levels of education lead to different thinking and decision-making patterns. The monetary value of the return to education in terms of health is perhaps half of the return to education on earnings, so policies that impact educational attainment could have a large effect on population health.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12352

Published: House, J., R. Schoeni, G. Kaplan, and H. Pollack (eds.) Making Americans Healthier: Social and Economic Policy as Health Policy. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008.

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