Can a high school education help you live longer? New research by UCI economist Damon Clark says no, contrary to popular belief.

“There’s a lot of research out there suggesting a positive correlation between education and health; people who go to school longer report being healthier and many national health objectives include targets for high school completion rates,” Clark says. “But current research fails to associate education as the cause of better health.”

Working with Heather Royer, Santa Barbara economics assistant professor, Clark obtained data from Great Britain’s administrative records, covering a time period when laws changed requiring students to stay in school one year longer. The pair performed a regression analysis to determine whether an additional year of schooling contributed directly to better health outcomes, regardless of current population trends. They found that while the policy led to sharp increases in completed years of education and earnings, better health – judged by measuring mortality rates – was not affected.

The findings, published in the October issue of the American Economic Review, got Clark looking at another angle – education and fertility rates.

“As we were reviewing the data, it became evident that we could parse out whether women who stayed in school one year longer were less likely to give birth while teenagers,” Clark says. In July, he was awarded a $30,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation to extend this line of inquiry.

Findings will be helpful to policy makers interested in reducing high school dropout rate and at the same time, possibly reducing teen pregnancies.

The new study funding will run through April 2014.

Clark joined the UCI in faculty in fall 2013. He earned his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Oxford and was previously an assistant professor in the Department of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University. His research focuses on education economics, labor economics and public economics.

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