Health Disparities Across Education: The Role of Differential Reporting Error

John Cawley, Anna Choi

NBER Working Paper No. 21317
Issued in July 2015, Revised in September 2017
NBER Program(s):Economics of Education, Health Care, Health Economics

One of the most robust findings in health economics is that higher-educated individuals tend to be in better health. This paper tests whether health disparities across education are to some extent due to differences in reporting error across education. We test this hypothesis using data from the pooled National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) Continuous for 1999-2012, which include both self-reports and objective verification for an extensive set of health behaviors and conditions, including smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

We find that college graduates are more likely to give false negative reports of obesity and high total cholesterol; one possible explanation for this is social desirability bias. However, college graduates are also significantly less likely to give false positive reports of smoking, obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Because there are far more truly negative people (who are less likely to give a false positive report) than truly positive people (who are more likely to give a false negative report), we find that college graduates report their health significantly more accurately overall.

download in pdf format
   (362 K)

email paper

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w21317

Published: Anna Choi & John Cawley, 2018. "Health disparities across education: The role of differential reporting error," Health Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 27(3), pages 1-29, March. citation courtesy of

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded* these:
Nevo and Wong w21318 The Elasticity of Substitution Between Time and Market Goods: Evidence from the Great Recession
Hansen, Sabia, and Rees w21311 Cigarette Taxes and Youth Smoking: Updated Estimates Using YRBS Data
Attanasio, Levell, Low, and Sánchez-Marcos w21315 Aggregating Elasticities: Intensive and Extensive Margins of Female Labour Supply
Beerli and Peri w21319 The Labor Market Effects of Opening the Border: Evidence from Switzerland
Meyer, Mok, and Sullivan w21399 Household Surveys in Crisis
NBER Videos

National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email:

Contact Us