Understanding the Mechanisms Linking College Education with Longevity

Kai Hong
Peter A. Savelyev, William & Mary
Keong Tan


We go beyond estimating the effect of college attainment on longevity by uncovering the mechanisms behind this effect. The uncovered mechanisms support claims in the literature about the causal relationships between education and longevity. The effect is decomposed with respect to a large set of potential mediators, including health behaviors, lifestyles, earnings, work conditions, and health stock at the start of the risk period. Our estimates based on the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study show that the effect of education on longevity is well explained by observed mediators, among which smoking, earnings, working conditions, and marriage are the strongest. Furthermore, we find that for women, the positive effect of education on longevity has been historically masked by the negative effect of education on marriage. An adjustment for the relationship between education and marriage based on data for more recent cohorts increases the estimated effect of education on longevity for women. We discuss the implications for policies aimed at improving health and longevity and reducing health inequality.