, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 619–643 | Cite as

Does Education Improve Cognitive Performance Four Decades After School Completion?

  • Nicole Schneeweis
  • Vegard Skirbekk
  • Rudolf Winter-Ebmer


We study the effect of secondary education on cognitive performance toward the end of working age. We exploit the exogenous variation in years of schooling arising from compulsory schooling reforms implemented in six European countries during the 1950s and 1960s. Using data of individuals, approximately age 60, from the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE), we assess the causal effect of education on memory, fluency, numeracy, and orientation-to-date. Furthermore, we study education effects on cognitive decline. We find a positive impact of schooling on memory scores. One year of education increases the memory score approximately four decades later by about 0.2, which amounts to 10 % of a standard deviation. Furthermore, we find some evidence for a protective effect of schooling on cognitive decline in terms of verbal fluency.


Compulsory education Cognitive functioning Memory Aging 



We would like to thank four anonymous referees, René Böheim, Taryn Galloway, Bill Butz, and Eric Bonsang, as well as seminar participants in Wuppertal and Aarhus for useful comments. We thank the Austrian FWF for funding of the Austrian Center for Labor Economics and the Welfare State. The SHARE data collection has been primarily funded by the EU through the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Framework Programme, the U.S. National Institute of Aging (NIA), and other national funds (e.g., the Austrian Ministries of Science and Social Affairs). We acknowledge support by a Starting Grant of the European Research Council, Grant Agreement 241003-COHORT. The usual disclaimer applies.


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Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole Schneeweis
    • 1
    • 2
  • Vegard Skirbekk
    • 3
  • Rudolf Winter-Ebmer
    • 1
    • 2
    • 4
    • 5
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsJohannes Kepler University LinzLinzAustria
  2. 2.IZABonnGermany
  3. 3.IIASALaxenburgAustria
  4. 4.IHSViennaAustria
  5. 5.CEPRLondonUK

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