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Education and the Prevalence of Pain

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  • Steven J. Atlas
  • Jonathan S. Skinner

Abstract

Many Americans report chronic and disabling pain, even in the absence of identifiable clinical disorders. We first examine the prevalence of pain in the older U.S. population using the Health and Retirement Study (HRS). Among 50-59 year females, for example, pain rates ranged from 26 percent for college graduates to 55 percent for those without a high school degree. Occupation, industry, and marital status attenuated but did not erase these educational gradients. Second, we used a study of patients with lower back pain and sciatica arising from intervertebral disk herniation (IDH). Initially, nearly all patients reported considerable pain and discomfort, with a sizeable fraction undergoing surgery for their IDH. However, baseline severity measures and surgical or medical treatment explained little of the variation in 10-year outcomes. By contrast, education exerted a strong impact on changes over time in pain: just 9 percent of college graduates report leg or back pain "always" or "almost always" after 10 years, compared to 34 percent for people without a high school degree. This close association of education with pain is consistent with recent research emphasizing the importance of neurological -- and perhaps economic -- factors in the perception of pain.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14964.

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Date of creation: May 2009
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Publication status: published as Education and the Prevalence of Pain , Steven J. Atlas, Jonathan Skinner. in Research Findings in the Economics of Aging , Wise. 2010
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14964

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  1. E. Glaeser & B. Sacerdote & Jose A. Scheinkman, 2003. "The Social Multiplier," Levine's Working Paper Archive 506439000000000130, David K. Levine.
  2. Anne Case & Angus Deaton, 2004. "Broken down by work and sex: how our health declines," Working Papers 257, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Center for Health and Wellbeing..
  3. Blanchflower, David G., 2008. "International Evidence on Well-being," IZA Discussion Papers 3354, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  4. Arie Kapteyn & James P. Smith & Arthur van Soest, 2006. "Dynamics of Work Disability and Pain," Working Papers 387, RAND Corporation Publications Department.
  5. Hugo Benitez-Silva & Moshe Buchinsky & Hiu Man Chan & Sofia Cheidvasser & John Rust, 2000. "How Large is the Bias in Self-Reported Disability?," Working Papers 2000-01, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  6. Edward L. Glaeser & Bruce Sacerdote & Jose A. Scheinkman, 1995. "Crime and Social Interactions," NBER Working Papers 5026, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. Rege, Mari & Telle, Kjetil & Votruba, Mark, 2009. "Social Interaction Effects in Disability Pension Participation: Evidence from Plant Downsizing," UiS Working Papers in Economics and Finance 2009/30, University of Stavanger.
  8. David H. Autor & Mark G. Duggan, 2003. "The Rise In The Disability Rolls And The Decline In Unemployment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(1), pages 157-205, February.
  9. Daniel Kahneman & Alan B. Krueger, 2006. "Developments in the Measurement of Subjective Well-Being," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 20(1), pages 3-24, Winter.
  10. Alan B. Krueger & Daniel Kahneman & David Schkade & Norbert Schwarz & Arthur A. Stone, 2009. "National Time Accounting: The Currency of Life," NBER Chapters, in: Measuring the Subjective Well-Being of Nations: National Accounts of Time Use and Well-Being, pages 9-86 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  11. David M. Cutler & Adriana Lleras-Muney, 2006. "Education and Health: Evaluating Theories and Evidence," NBER Working Papers 12352, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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Cited by:
  1. Blanchflower, David G., 2008. "International Evidence on Well-being," IZA Discussion Papers 3354, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).

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