How Education Produces Health: A Hypothetical Framework

26 09 2007

Columbia University – Teachers College Record
Date Published: September 12, 2007
ID Number: 14606

by Peter Muennig — September 12, 2007

Background: High school graduates live six to nine years longer than high school dropouts. Those with less education are more likely to die prematurely of cardiovascular disease, cancer, infectious disease, diabetes, lung disease, and injury than those with more education. Although there is growing evidence that the education-health relationship is causal, and some mechanisms linking education to health have been proposed, there is no gestalt for thinking about the health production function of education.

Purpose: The purpose of this article is to outline the mechanisms through which education may produce health.

Design: I explore the health risk factors that are more prevalent among those with lower educational attainment to ascertain whether such risk factors plausibly cause the diseases for which the less educated are at risk. To examine these relationships, I conduct a review of the public health, economics, endocrinology, sociology, neurosciences, and other literatures.

Conclusions: A remarkably clear path can be drawn between what we now believe to be the risk factors for disease and the primary causes of death among those with lower attainment. Although hypothetical, the pathways outlined in this article can be used as a basis for thinking about the health production function of education.

These mechanisms may better allow policy makers to understand the relationship between education and health. They may also be used to guide future research on the health benefits of education.

Finally, although the proposed pathways are hypothetical, there is good overall evidence that education produces health. Therefore, health benefits should be included as core outcome measures in future education research.



5 responses

26 09 2007

A “just off the top of my head” reason … wouldn’t it be that most kids that drop out of school enter into the work force taking manual labor jobs or those that expose them to hazardous materials? They get a couple more years of this exposure over their fellow students who are still spending the majority of their time in school even if they do take part time jobs.

Just a thought

26 09 2007

So — that would be a sort of lowering risk by lowering years of exposure? Like breast cancer risk is thought of as lessened by years spent pregnant, thus not menstruating?

26 09 2007

Not that I’m equating years in high school with years spent pregnant!! 😉

28 09 2007

Speaking of pregnancy, isn’t that a big high school health worry, along with obesity (bullying, rioting, shootings, drugs?) Sounds like “growing evidence” pointing to high school as not so healthy after all. . .

Postulating that kids overall might be healthier if freed from compulsory high school “education” made me remember this quote from the New Yorker about bonobos:

Captivity can have a striking impact on animal behavior. As Craig Stanford, a primatologist at the University of Southern California, recently put it, “Stuck together, bored out of their minds—what is there to do except eat and have sex?

28 09 2007

And “education” — which we all know just means years of schooling, not necessarily education — seems linked to some pretty UNhealthy attitudes about drugs, says Favorite Daughter:

People totally need medication for some things. But shouldn’t that be a last resort? Shouldn’t saying “I’m feeling anxious,” prompt a day or two of relaxation before a prescription; shouldn’t you try taking the phone off the hook before prying off that childproof cap – especially if you aren’t even a grownup?

A University of Michigan study released in December also noted the apparent growing popularity of OyxContin among teens. Dr. Mitchell Rosenthal, head of the Phoenix House drug treatment facility, said his agency has watched the use of painkillers by adolescents rise in recent years.

“Adolescents find the line between drugs that do good for you and drugs that make you feel good becoming fuzzier every year,” said Rosenthal, whose non-profit organization treats 6,000 patients in nine states. “This is a wake-up call to parents.”

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