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Education and the Prevalence of Pain

In: Research Findings in the Economics of Aging

  • Steven J. Atlas
  • Jonathan Skinner

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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This chapter was published in:
  • David A. Wise, 2010. "Research Findings in the Economics of Aging," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number wise08-1, September.
  • This item is provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Chapters with number 8198.
    Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberch:8198
    Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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    Web page: http://www.nber.org
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    1. Kapteyn, Arie & Smith, James P. & van Soest, Arthur, 2006. "Dynamics of Work Disability and Pain," IZA Discussion Papers 2057, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. 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.
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    7. 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.
    8. David G. Blanchflower, 2008. "International evidence on well-being," NBER Working Papers 14318, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Alan B. Krueger & Daniel Kahneman & David Schkade & Norbert Schwarz & Arthur A. Stone, 2008. "National Time Accounting: The Currency of Life," Working Papers 1061, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
      • 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.
    10. 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.
    11. repec:dgr:kubcen:200622 is not listed on IDEAS
    12. 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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