Thursday, January 04, 2007

Education makes you healthy :: NYT

Many of the big-time bloggers I follow are blogging this NYT article,
Health insurance, too, he says, “is vastly overrated in the policy debate.”

Instead, Dr. Smith and others say, what may make the biggest difference is keeping young people in school. A few extra years of school is associated with extra years of life and vastly improved health decades later, in old age.

It is not the only factor, of course.

There is smoking, which sharply curtails life span. There is a connection between having a network of friends and family and living a long and healthy life. And there is evidence that people with more powerful jobs and, presumably, with more control over their work lives, are healthier and longer lived.

But there is little dispute about the primacy of education.

“If you were to ask me what affects health and longevity,” says Michael Grossman, a health economist at the City University of New York, “I would put education at the top of my list.”

The first rigorous effort to decide whether education really changes people so they live longer began in a most inauspicious way.

It was 1999 and a Columbia University graduate student, Adriana Lleras-Muney, was casting about for a topic for her doctoral dissertation in economics. She found an idea in a paper published in 1969. Three economists noted the correlation between education and health and gave some advice: If you want to improve health, you will get more return by investing in education than by investing in medical care.

I'm not sure that the causal relationship is there. It may just be that idiots are more likely to drop out of school, and also to die young as a consequence of idiotic behavior. As John Wayne said, life is tough, and it's tougher when you're stupid.

Greg Mankiw:
The article is particularly good at explaining how studies handle the identification problem. That is, researchers have worked hard to disentangle correlation and causation. The results indicate that education has a causal impact on health.

Marginal Revolution:
The main point of the article is that education is strongly correlated with better health outcomes, although the author too quickly assumes a causal connection. For instance education may signal rather than cause low time preference and thus responsible behavior.
Since I routinely rely on these sources to determine what I think, I am left confused.

UPDATE - Arnold Kling tips the balance for me:
Suppose that a law was passed in a given state saying that all children born after January 1, 1925 had to attend school through 10th grade, where previously they only had to attend through 6th grade. Then, if we observe a discontinuity in the longevity of people born after January 1, 1925 compared to people born just before, this is plausibly due to greater schooling. Greg Mankiw rightly points out the value of such methodology.



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