January 2022

IZA DP No. 15035: Education, Health and Health-Related Behaviors: Evidence from Higher Education Expansion

This study throws light on the potential non-linear effects of education on individual health and health-related behaviors, finding a strong role for higher education. Using an instrumental variables (IVs) strategy, which leverages changes in within-province between-municipality college proximity across birth cohorts, we demonstrate that higher education affects individual health-related behavior. By contrast, IVs estimates based on a compulsory schooling age reform show mostly non-significant effects. Our results point to a complex link between education and health. On the one hand, higher education channels individuals into some healthy behaviors and better health outcomes namely healthy eating, more physical activity and a lower risk of obesity. On the other hand, it also appears to increase the prevalence of certain unhealthy behaviors, such as greater smoking and drinking prevalence and higher cigarettes consumption. Albeit effects are generally similar across genders, except in few cases (e.g. smoking behavior), our analysis highlights heterogeneous effects by age and helps explain potential differences in results reported in past quasi-experimental studies in which the cohorts affected by the educational reforms used for identification are observed at given ages and not over an individual's entire life-cycle.