Conditional and Unconditional Benefits of College Degrees for Young Adult Health Behaviors

Elizabeth Lawrence, University of Colorado, Boulder

Among U.S. adults, college degree earners live much healthier lives than those with less education, but we know little about why. Determining how and why educational attainment influences smoking, exercising, and other behaviors can reveal the role of education in social stratification. This study accounts for selection into college degree attainment to estimate causal effects and determine whether effects are conditioned on the likelihood of achieving the degree or a person’s social background. The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health) provides longitudinal data on education and health behaviors. Methods include growth curve models, propensity score matching, and heterogeneous treatment effect models. Results indicate that college degrees are influential on a range of health behaviors beyond selection into degree attainment. For most outcomes, degrees mitigate, but do not negate the effects of class background. However, for BMI and fast-food consumption, college degrees have greater benefits for advantaged individuals.

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Presented in Session 66: Social Determinants of Health