Gains in Life Expectancy Associated with Higher Education in Men

Bijwaard, Govert E.; van Poppel, Frans; Ekamper, Peter; Lumey, L. H.

Background: Many studies show large differences in life expectancy across the range of education, intelligence, and socio-economic status. As educational attainment, intelligence, and socio-economic status are highly interrelated, appropriate methods are required to disentangle their separate effects. The aim of this paper is to present a novel method to estimate gains in life expectancy specifically associated with increased education. Our analysis is based on a structural model in which education level, IQ at age 18 and mortality all depend on (latent) intelligence. The model allows for (selective) educational choices based on observed factors and on an unobserved factor capturing intelligence. Our estimates are based on information from health examinations of military conscripts born in 1944–1947 in The Netherlands and their vital status through age 66 (n = 39,798). Results: Our empirical results show that men with higher education have lower mortality. Using structural models to account for education choice, the estimated gain in life expectancy for men moving up one educational level ranges from 0.3 to 2 years. The estimated gain in months alive over the observational period ranges from -1.2 to 5.7 months. The selection effect is positive and amounts to a gain of one to two months. Decomposition of the selection effect shows that the gain from selection on (latent) intelligence is larger than the gain from selection on observed factors and amounts to 1.0 to 1.7 additional months alive. Conclusion: Our findings confirm the strong selection into education based on socio-economic status and intelligence. They also show significant higher life expectancy among individuals with higher education after the selectivity of education choice has been taken into account. Based on these estimates, it is plausible therefore that increases in education could lead to increases in life expectancy.


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January 5, 2016