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Life expectancy and schooling: new insights from cross-country data


I argue that the relationship between life expectancy and schooling crucially depends on which measure of life expectancy one uses. In particular, I show that while the change in life expectancy at birth between 1960 and 1990 is positively correlated with percentage change in schooling, the change in life expectancy at age 5 is, at best, uncorrelated with percentage change in schooling. This evidence suggests that increasing life horizon beyond the early crucial childhood years for formal acquisition of human capital is not as quantitatively important as previously thought.

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  1. See also (Moav 2005).

  2. One may find it strange that life expectancy at age 5 plus 5 is less than life expectancy at birth. Indeed, ∀ x > x′ the following must hold: \(x+e_x\geqslant x^{\prime}+e_{x^{\prime}}\) where e x is life expectancy at age x. The reason it happens in my data is that life expectancy at birth is for the total population while life expectancy at age 5 is for males. This does not pose a major problem, however. In 1960, the average life expectancy at birth for the total population was 64.9 years and for males 62.7 years. In 1990, it was 72.9 and 70 years, respectively. However, the correlation between life expectancy at birth for the total population and for males is 0.995 in 1960 and 0.985 in 1990. The reason for using data on males is discussed below.

  3. The coefficient of variation for life expectancy at age 5 has remained constant over the period 1960–1990 at a level of about 0.04 while for life expectancy at birth, it has decreased by half from 0.09 to 0.045 over that period.

  4. Interestingly, there is no correlation between the absolute gain in life expectancy at birth and absolute gain in average years of schooling.

  5. Similarly, Maoz (2008) empirically shows that countries do not seem to share a common dynamic path of fertility and income. This severely weakens the ability to study the relationship between these two variables from cross-section analysis.

  6. The expectation of life at age 5 from the Demographic Yearbook is available only for each gender separately. I use data on the expectation of life at age 5 for males because there are more observations for males than for females.

  7. The OLS estimate is negative, −0.027, but highly insignificant with a p value of 0.51.

  8. A very similar picture emerges if one looks at the correlation between the absolute gains in life expectancy at age 5 and the absolute gains in average years of schooling.

  9. Using cross-country data, Angeles (2010) showed that mortality plays a significant role in fertility reductions.

  10. Galor (2011) provides a thorough discussion of the necessary conditions which must meet for a reduction in child mortality to have a negative effect on the number of surviving children. He then looked at the evidence for currently advanced economies and concludes that it is highly unlikely that declines in mortality rates caused the observed decline in net fertility.


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I thank two anonymous referees, Oded Galor and Yishay Maoz. I also thank Shalva Zonenashvili for research assistance.

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Correspondence to Moshe Hazan.

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Responsible editor: Junsen Zhang

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Hazan, M. Life expectancy and schooling: new insights from cross-country data. J Popul Econ 25, 1237–1248 (2012).

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  • Life expectancy
  • Human capital
  • Economic growth

JEL Classification

  • J24
  • O11