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date: 20 April 2018

The Effect of Education on Health and Mortality: A Review of Experimental and Quasi-Experimental Evidence

This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Economics and Finance. Please check back later for the full article.

Education is strongly associated with better health and longer lives. However, the extent to which education causes health and longevity is widely debated. We develop a human capital framework to structure the interpretation of the empirical evidence. We then review evidence on the causal effects of education on mortality and its two most common preventable causes: smoking and obesity. We focus attention on evidence from randomized controlled trials, twin studies, and quasi-experiments. There is no convincing evidence of an effect of education on obesity, and the effects on smoking are only apparent when schooling reforms affect an individual’s track or their peer group, but not when they simply increase the duration of schooling. An effect of education on mortality exists in some contexts but not in others, and it seems to depend on (a) gender, (b) the labor market returns to education, (c) the quality of education, and (d) whether education affects the quality of individuals’ peers.