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The Causal Effects of Education on Health, Mortality, Cognition, Well-being, and Income in the UK Biobank

By Neil M Davies, Matt Dickson, George Davey Smith, Gerard van den Berg, Frank Windmeijer

Posted 13 Sep 2016
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/074815

Educated people are generally healthier, have fewer comorbidities and live longer than people with less education. Previous evidence about the effects of education come from observational studies many of which are affected by residual confounding. Legal changes to the minimum school leave age is a potential natural experiment which provides a potentially more robust source of evidence about the effects of schooling. Previous studies have exploited this natural experiment using population-level administrative data to investigate mortality, and relatively small surveys to investigate the effect on mortality. Here, we add to the evidence using data from a large sample from the UK Biobank. We exploit the raising of the school-leaving age in the UK in September 1972 as a natural experiment and regression discontinuity and instrumental variable estimators to identify the causal effects of staying on in school. Remaining in school was positively associated with 23 of 25 outcomes. After accounting for multiple hypothesis testing, we found evidence of causal effects on twelve outcomes, however, the associations of schooling and intelligence, smoking, and alcohol consumption may be due to genomic and socioeconomic confounding factors. Education affects some, but not all health and socioeconomic outcomes. Differences between educated and less educated people may be partially due to residual genetic and socioeconomic confounding.

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