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Transforming lives: the impact of compulsory schooling on hope and happiness

Abstract

This is the first article examining the causal impact of mandatory extended primary schooling on happiness (sense of well-being) of young adults. We rely on a law change that raised compulsory schooling from 5 to 8 years in Turkey to address the endogeneity of education to happiness. Our study shows that, for females, earning at least a middle school diploma increases the likelihood of being happy and the probability of being satisfied with various life domains. Descriptive tests suggest that being hopeful about one’s own future well-being partly explains the relationship between women’s schooling and happiness. For males, although relatively imprecisely estimated, we find evidence that earning at least a middle school degree results in a decline in subjective well-being. Supplemental analysis develops evidence consistent with the view that an imbalance between aspirations and attainments, flowing from extended primary schooling, may be the reason behind this counterintuitive finding among men.

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Notes

  1. Prime Minister David Cameron emphasized that governments should focus not only on GDP but also GWP (general well-being) (Benjamin et al. 2014). Similarly, with President Sarkozy’s efforts, the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress was established in France with a broad support from economists, including Nobel Economics Prize Laureates, to draw attention on shifting emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s well-being. For details, see (Stiglitz et al. 2009) and http://www.stiglitz-sen-fitoussi.fr/en/index.htm.

  2. “The pursuit of happiness” is also highlighted in the US Declaration of Independence in 1776 as an “unalienable right” akin to life and liberty.

  3. For details, see http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/

  4. Following upon Easterlin (2006), we use the terms “happiness,” “life satisfaction,” and “subjective well-being” interchangeably throughout the article.

  5. Relatedly, the reliability of SWB measures as welfare indicators has been questioned as well. For evidence on the suitability of SWB measures, see Krueger and Schkade (2008), Oswald and Wu (2010).

  6. One exception is Oreopoulos (2007), which examines the impact of dropping out of high school on lifetime wealth, health, and happiness.

  7. As discussed later, a line of literature in psychology and other fields defines happiness as the balance between a person’s aspirations and attainments (De La Croix 1998; March and Simon 1968; Solberg et al. 2002).

  8. Powdthavee et al. (2015) is one of the few studies accounting gender differences. Using a simultaneous equation model (SEM), they analyze the direct and indirect associations between education and life satisfaction through: income, employment, marriage, children, and health channels among Australians.

  9. In a review article, Oreopoulos and Salvanes (2011) repeat the same exercise for 25–65-year olds using the same data and get similar results.

  10. For instance, while Black et al. (2005), Oreopoulos (2007), and Devereux and Hart (2010) find that schooling has a positive impact on earnings in Norway, Canada, USA, and England, other studies, Pischke and Von Wachter (2008), Grenet (2013), and Stephens and Yang (2014), report zero returns to schooling in Germany, France, and USA. Similarly, Fort et al. (2014) find conflicting results for the effect of education on fertility in Continental Europe and England.

  11. For example, Brunello et al. (2013) document differential effects of education on BMI by gender. They also show that education leads to a larger employment probability for women compared to men in several European countries. Stephens and Yang (2014) find differential results by gender on how education impacts divorce in the USA. Brunello et al. (2009) show that education has a greater positive effect on the earnings of women in comparison to men in a sample of 12 European countries. Similarly, exploiting the same reform that this study uses, Torun (2013) and Mocan (2014) provide evidence from Turkey that having at least a middle school degree leads to an increase in female wages, but extra schooling has no effect on the earnings of men.

  12. Resmi Gazete; Friday, 7 August 1992, Section 14.

  13. As shown in Appendix Table 12, adding the 1986 birth cohort to the analysis by assigning different treatment values pertaining to exposure to the education reform status of those who were born in 1986 produces results that are very similar the main estimates.

  14. We acknowledge the possibility that the parents of children who were born prior to 1986, such as those who were born in 1985 and 1984, may have reacted to the education reform and decided to enroll their children to a middle school even though they were not required to do so. However, both the trends in holding at least a middle school diploma, presented in Fig. 1, as well as the anecdotal evidence based on our observations, and conversations with educators and researchers in Turkey suggest that such a reaction by the parents of individuals who were born prior to 1986 did not happen.

  15. Because we use repeated cross sections of life satisfaction surveys for the 2009–2014 period, by controlling for birth cohort trends and survey year dummies (as well as binary age indicators in robustness tests), our empirical specification allows us to fully account for the age effects.

  16. Although the “bottom-up” approach summarized by Van Praag et al. 2003 employs these domains of life satisfaction indicators as precursor of happiness, there is no consensus in the literature weighting which life domains are more important in determining overall happiness. Nevertheless, almost all the studies examining the role of different life domains in predicting happiness do agree on the importance of economic conditions, family circumstances, health, and workplace conditions (Van Praag et al. 2003; Easterlin 2006; Easterlin and Sawangfa 2007).

  17. PWI-A consists of satisfaction indicators for the following life domains: Standard of living, health, achievement, relationships, personal safety, community, religion, and future security. For each life domain, the potential answers vary between 0 (no satisfaction at all) and 10 (complete satisfaction). The Personal Well Being Index for Adults, representing subjective wellbeing of an individual, is obtained by adding up these domain scores (International Wellbeing Group, 2013).

  18. Because the TLSS data do not provide all the questions used by the PWI-A, our life satisfaction index measure attempts to approximate it. In doing so, we experimented with different combinations of the life domain satisfaction variables available in the TLSS. Our results did not differ regardless of whether we use all or a subset of the available life domain satisfaction measures. Furthermore, we assigned equal weights to different life domains in constructing the CLSI. However, as suggested by Campbell et al. (1976) and Guardiola and Picazo-Tadeo (2014), we also experimented with assigning alternative weights to different life satisfaction measures in constructing our composite index. The results, which are available upon request from the authors, yield very similar estimates to the ones presented in this article.

  19. This type of a normalization of scale variables has been utilized by a number of previous studies, including Fryer and Levitt (2004), Kling et al. (2007), and Liebman and Luttmer (2015).

  20. The few existing articles studying SWB in Turkey focus on documenting the correlates of happiness (Selim 2008; Dumludag 2013; Caner 2014).

  21. While earnings would be an ideal measure of financial well-being, the TLSS does not collect wage data. Instead we use household income, which is normalized to mean zero and standard error of one. The second financial well-being indicator, can make ends meet, takes the value of one if the respondent declares that his or her family managed to make ends meet in the previous month, zero otherwise. The binary marital status indicator, married, is used to capture the role of marriage as a mediator between education and happiness. We employ the subjective economic ladder (SEL) as a proxy of an individual’s perception of relative economic standing in the society. Our short-run well-being expectation variable, Expects to be Better off Next Year, takes the value of one if the respondent expects an improvement in material well-being next year, zero otherwise. Finally, our longer-run welfare expectation measure, hopeful, is generated using the following survey question: “How hopeful are you about your future?” with potential answers ranging from 4 “very hopeful” to 1 “not hopeful at all.” Hopeful is set equal to one for those who are very hopeful or hopeful about their futures, zero otherwise. Table 1 reveals that 80 % of the women in the treatment group identify themselves as hopeful, while this rate is about 73 % in the control group. For men, the rates of being hopeful are 77 and 73 % in treatment and control groups, respectively. The proportions of individuals who managed to make ends meet in the previous month are slightly lower among the treated individuals compared to those who are in the control group for both genders (i.e., for females 12 vs. 14 %, and for males 12 vs. 16 %). While 43 % of the treated women report that they expect to be better off next year, it is 38 % for females who are in the control group. The corresponding rates for males who are in the treatment and control groups are 45 and 39 %, respectively. Table 1 also shows that 33 % of the women and 86 % of the men are in the labor force. Among women, labor force participation rates for control and treatment groups are 32 and 34 %, respectively. For men, these rates are 74 and 96 % for treatment and control groups, in that order. Similar to CSLI, we standardized the household income and subjective economic ladder variables for ease of interpretation.

  22. Optimal bandwidth selection is accomplished using the rdbwselect Stata command described in Calonico et al. (2014).

  23. Because birth date information is only available in integer values (i.e., birth year), our data estimation windows are defined accordingly.

  24. Note that these compliance rates are similar to the ones observed in a number of European countries (Brunello et al. 2013; Fort et al. 2014).

  25. The p value of the estimated discontinuity is 0.206.

  26. These first-stage estimates are consistent with previous research studying the effects of the 1997 education reform in Turkey (Torun 2013; Cesur and Mocan 2013; Cesur et al. 2014; Güneş 2015, 2016).

  27. In Appendix Table 9, we also examine whether the 1997 education reform induced individuals to continue their schooling beyond middle school. For females, the results presented in columns (1) to (4) show that the education reform has a positive impact on the likelihood of holding at least a high school degree (panel A) and holding at least a college degree (panel B). However, the education reform does not seem to impact the educational attainment of males (columns 5 to 8) beyond holding a middle school diploma. These patterns of results are consistent with a number of other compulsory schooling reforms in different countries, which cause a greater increase in women’s schooling in comparison to that of men (Brunello et al. 2009; Devereux and Hart 2010; Brunello et al. 2013; Gathmann et al. 2015).

  28. As shown in Appendix Table 18, results using all estimation intervals for the remaining tables are very similar to the 6-year before/after estimation window.

  29. Dividing the reduced form effect of the 1997 education reform by the corresponding first-stage impact produces identical coefficients to the ones resulted from the IV estimates, which are shown in Tables 5 and 6.

  30. A glance over the results shown in Tables 2, 5, and 6 suggests that the CLSI is a good proxy measure for overall life satisfaction. Hence, in the remaining tables, we only show estimates of the CLSI with the interest of saving space. The results using individual domains of life satisfaction indicators lead to similar conclusions and are available upon request.

  31. We follow Zimmerman (2014) for obtaining the p values for instrumental variable estimates. We use Rademacher weights and perform 1999 repetitions in our analysis.

  32. For instance, while holding at least a middle school diploma causes an increase in female wages, it has no effect on male earnings (Torun 2013; Mocan and Cannonier 2014). Cesur and Mocan (2013) show that holding a middle school diploma causes a decline in female religiosity while it has no effect on male religiosity. Dursun et al. (2016) show that a mother’s extended primary schooling has a negative effect on child mortality. Additionally, Güneş (2015) finds that increased maternal schooling has favorable effects on the health of their children. Finally, Cesur et al. (2014) show that holding at least a middle school diploma caused an increase in the likelihood of being overweight among men.

  33. In Appendix Table 17, we explore the role of potential mediators between middle school education and SWB for the at-most-middle-school sample. This exercise produces a pattern of results similar to those Table 8 presents.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Jillian Carr, Fred Carstensen, Briggs Depew, Naci Mocan, Robert Newman, and seminar participants at the Louisiana State University, 2015 Southern Economic Association Meetings, and anonymous referees for their comments and suggestions. We gratefully acknowledge the assistance and help of Şebnem Beşe Canpolat, Metin Aytaç, Salim Gürbüz, and the Demographic Statistics Department of the Turkish Statistical Institute with the data.

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Correspondence to Bahadır Dursun.

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Responsible editor: Erdal Tekin

Appendix

Appendix

Fig. 4
figure 4

Age gradient of happiness among Turkish citizens

Fig. 5
figure 5

Balanced covariates

Fig. 6
figure 6

McCrary test

Table 9 The impact of reform on high school and college education
Table 10 Linear-RD instrumental variables and RD estimates obtained from the computational procedure offered by Nichols (2007)
Table 11 Instrumental variable ordered probit estimates
Table 12 Robustness checks for instrumental variable estimates of being happy
Table 13 Robustness checks for instrumental variable estimates of composite life satisfaction index
Table 14 Estimates obtained from samples based on age limitations instrumental variable estimates
Table 15 Wild-cluster bootstrapping for standard errors
Table 16 The impact of having at least a middle school degree on being happy and domains of life satisfaction instrumental variable estimates: subsample heterogeneity by urban versus rural residency status
Table 17 Instrumental variables estimates controlling for potential mediators at most middle school sample
Table 18 The impact of having at least a middle school degree on domains of life satisfaction instrumental variable estimates using the full set of data interval windows

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Dursun, B., Cesur, R. Transforming lives: the impact of compulsory schooling on hope and happiness. J Popul Econ 29, 911–956 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00148-016-0592-1

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Keywords

  • Happiness
  • Subjective well-being
  • Education

JEL classification

  • I21
  • I28
  • I31