The causal effects of education on health outcomes in the UK Biobank

Neil Davies, Matt R Dickson, George Davey Smith, Gerard J. van den Berg, Frank Windmeijer

Research output: Contribution to journalLetter (Academic Journal)peer-review

136 Citations (Scopus)
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Educated people are generally healthier, have fewer comorbidities and live longer than people with less education. Much of the evidence about the effects of education comes from observational studies, which can be affected by residual confounding. Natural experiments, such as laws that increase the minimum school leaving age, are a potentially more robust source of evidence about the causal effects of education. Previous studies have exploited this natural experiment using population-level administrative data to investigate mortality, and surveys to investigate the effect on morbidity. Here, we add to the evidence using data from a large sample from the UK Biobank. We exploit the raising of the minimum school leaving age in the UK in September 1972 as a natural experiment6. We used a regression discontinuity design to investigate the causal effects of remaining in school. We found consistent evidence that remaining in school causally reduced the risk of diabetes and mortality in all specifications.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)117-125
Number of pages9
JournalNature Human Behaviour
Early online date29 Jan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2018

Structured keywords

  • ECON Applied Economics
  • ECON CEPS Health


  • instrumental variable analysis
  • education
  • genomic confounding


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