Today’s Decisions, Tomorrow’s Outcomes: Does Self-Control Explain the Educational Health Gradient?

Christopher Holmes, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Education confers resources, skills, attitudes, and social-psychological characteristics that encourage healthy behaviors and discourage unhealthy behaviors (e.g., Mirowsky and Ross 2003). However, educational success itself requires many of the same future oriented behavioral tendencies that are associated with good health. In particular, self-control (Gottfredson and Hirschi 1990) is theoretically relevant to both educational and health outcomes. Individuals with high self-control are likely to defer gratification, avoid unnecessary risks, plan for long-term goals, and exhibit impulse control. These characteristics develop prior to educational completion and are relevant to both educational success and health behaviors such as smoking, which calls into question the causal relationship between educational attainment and health. Using data from Add Health, preliminary evidence suggests that self-control at least partially explains the negative relationship between educational attainment and cigarette smoking in adolescence and adulthood.

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Presented in Poster Session 5: Adult Health and Mortality