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Expected or Completed? Comparing Two Measures of Education and Their Relationship with Social Inequalities in Health Among Young Adults

Abstract

Similarly to other age groups, there are significant social inequalities in health among young adults (YA). Education is thought to be the most appropriate indicator of YA socioeconomic status (SES), yet it is often in progress at that age and may not be representative of future achievement. Therefore, scholars have explored YA ‘expected’ education as a proxy of SES. However, no study has examined how it compares to the more common SES indicator, ‘completed’ education. Using data from 1457 YA surveyed twice over a two year period, we describe associations between participants’ completed and expected education at baseline and completed education at follow-up. We then compare associations between these two measures and three health outcomes—smoking status, self-rated mental health, and participation in physical activity and sports—at baseline and followup using regression models. At baseline, half of the participants were imputed a higher ‘expected’ level than that ‘completed’ at that time. In regression models, ‘expected’ and ‘completed’ education were strongly associated with all outcomes and performed slightly differently in terms of effect size, statistical significance, and model fit. ‘Expected’ education offers a good approximation of future achievement. More importantly, ‘expected’ and ‘completed’ education variables can be conceptualized as complementary indicators associated with inequalities in health in YA. Using both may help better understand social inequalities in health in YA.

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Acknowledgements

We wish to thank the Interdisciplinary Study of Inequalities in Smoking team, especially Julie Vallée, for their insightful comments during the writing of this manuscript. TG and AG were funded by doctoral scholarships through the Fonds de recherche du QuébecSanté during this project. MS is supported by a post-doctoral fellowship from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The ISIS project was funded through an operating grant awarded to KLF by the CIHR (MOP-110977).

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Correspondence to Thierry Gagné.

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Gagné, T., Ghenadenik, A.E., Shareck, M. et al. Expected or Completed? Comparing Two Measures of Education and Their Relationship with Social Inequalities in Health Among Young Adults. Soc Indic Res 135, 549–562 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11205-016-1517-9

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Keywords

  • Young adults
  • Education
  • Social inequalities
  • Measurement