, Volume 36, Issue 4, pp 445-460

Refining the association between education and health: The effects of quantity, credential, and selectivity

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We refine the established association between education and health by distinguishing three aspects of a person s education (quantity, credential, and selectivity) and by examining the mechanisms through which they may correlate with health. Data are from the 1995 Aging, Status, and the Sense of Control Survey, a representative U.S. national telephone survey of 2,593 respondents aged 18 to 95, with an oversample of elderly. Results show that physical functioning and perceived health increase significantly with years of formal education and with college selectivity for those with a bachelor s or higher degree, adjusting for age, sex, race, marital status, and parental education. The credential of a college degree has no net association with physical functioning and perceived health beyond the amount attributable to the additional years of schooling. Of the three aspects of education, years of schooling has the largest effect. Most of that association appears attributable to its correlation with work and economic conditions, social psychological resources, and health lifestyle. A large portion of the net association of college selectivity with physical functioning and perceived health appears attributable to health lifestyle.

We are indebted to the National Institute on Aging for Grant RO1 AG12393, which supported the Aging, Status, and the Sense of Control data collection and analysis. Sampling, pretesting, and interviewing were conducted by the Survey Research Laboratory of the University of Illinois. We thank Patricia Drentea, Madonna Harrington Meyer, Toby Parcel, and Maciek Slomczynski for their comments, and Marieke Van Willigen for coding college selectivity.