Beyond credential : postsecondary education and health in early adulthood




Humphries, Melissa Hope

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The positive association between education and health is well documented across time, place and population. Those with higher levels of education and/or more years of schooling are healthier than individuals with lower amounts of education (Mirowsky and Ross 2003). Even controlling for income, researchers find health benefits for individuals with higher education, suggesting that education itself has an effect on health beyond its economic benefits (Cutler and Lleras-Muney 2010; Mirowsky and Ross 1998b). The disparities between the highest and lowest educated are growing, and the role that education plays in maintaining a healthy life is increasing across cohorts (Lynch 2003). Although decades of research have investigated the relationship between education and health using different health outcomes and varying measures of education, the actual educational mechanisms through which health is affected are poorly understood. In this dissertation, I focus more deeply on the postsecondary education process itself through examination of enrollment, attainment and type of institution attended and how these attributes relate to young adult self-rated health. Using the National Longitudinal Study of Youth 1997 (NLSY97), I investigate how the postsecondary experience is associated with young adult health. The longitudinal nature of the data also allow for consideration of prior health, SES and educational factors which sharpens the analyses to better highlight the actual association between postsecondary schooling and early adult health. In the first analytic chapter, I find that when time enrolled and degree earned are modeled concurrently, degree attainment retains an independent effect on both self-rated health and work limitations. However, for respondents who enter postsecondary schooling, but do not earn a degree, time enrolled in four-year institutions, but not two-year institutions, is associated with a higher probability of reporting better self-rated health. The second analytic chapter shows that students who attend selective four-year schools have a health advantage to those who enroll in less selective schools. Interestingly, the better health of those in elite colleges is explained by their lower BMIs. The remaining chapter of my dissertation explores how the relationships between education and health differ across gender.




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