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The Health Returns to Education: What Can We Learn from Twins?


  • Lundborg, Petter

    () (Lund University)


This paper estimates the health returns to education, using data on identical twins. I adopt a twin-differences strategy in order to obtain estimates that are not biased by unobserved family background and genetic traits that may affect both education and health. I further investigate to what extent within-twin-pair differences in schooling correlates with within-twin-pair differences in early life health and parent-child relations. The results suggest a causal effect of education on health. Higher educational levels are found to be positively related to self-reported health but negatively related to the number of chronic conditions. Lifestyle factors, such as smoking and overweight, are found to contribute little to the education/health gradient. I am also able to rule out occupational hazards and health insurance coverage as explanations for the gradient. In addition, I find no evidence of heterogenous effects of education by parental education. Finally, the results suggest that factors that may vary within twin pairs, such as birth weight, early life health, parental treatment and relation with parents, do not predict within-twin pair differences in schooling, lending additional credibility to my estimates and to the general validity of using a twin-differences design to study the returns to education.

Suggested Citation

  • Lundborg, Petter, 2008. "The Health Returns to Education: What Can We Learn from Twins?," IZA Discussion Papers 3399, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp3399

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    Cited by:

    1. Anderberg, Dan & Chevalier, Arnaud & Wadsworth, Jonathan, 2011. "Anatomy of a health scare: Education, income and the MMR controversy in the UK," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(3), pages 515-530, May.
    2. Petter Lundborg; & Carl Hampus Lyttkens; & Paul Nystedt;, 2012. "Human capital and longevity. Evidence from 50,000 twins," Health, Econometrics and Data Group (HEDG) Working Papers 12/19, HEDG, c/o Department of Economics, University of York.
    3. Gerdtham, Ulf-G & Lundborg, Petter & Lyttkens, Carl Hampus & Nystedt, Paul, 2012. "Do Socioeconomic Factors Really Explain Income-Related Inequalities in Health? Applying a Twin Design to Standard Decomposition Analysis," Working Papers 2012:21, Lund University, Department of Economics.
    4. Jürges, Hendrik & Reinhold, Steffen & Salm, Martin, 2011. "Does schooling affect health behavior? Evidence from the educational expansion in Western Germany," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 862-872, October.
    5. Madsen, Mia & Andersen, Per K. & Gerster, Mette & Andersen, Anne-Marie N. & Christensen, Kaare & Osler, Merete, 2014. "Are the educational differences in incidence of cardiovascular disease explained by underlying familial factors? A twin study," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 118(C), pages 182-190.
    6. Kazuyo Machiyama & Jan C. Semenza & R. J. Silverwood & Melissa J. Palmer & Tek-Ang Lim & Davide Manissero & Andreas Sandgren & George B. Ploubidis, 2016. "School life expectancy and risk for tuberculosis in Europe," International Journal of Public Health, Springer;Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), vol. 61(5), pages 603-611, June.
    7. Brunello, Giorgio & Fabbri, Daniele & Fort, Margherita, 2009. "Years of Schooling, Human Capital and the Body Mass Index of European Females," IZA Discussion Papers 4667, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    8. Naomi Duke & Ross Macmillan, 2016. "Schooling, skills, and self-rated health: A test of conventional wisdom on the relationship between educational attainment and health," Working Papers 087, "Carlo F. Dondena" Centre for Research on Social Dynamics (DONDENA), Università Commerciale Luigi Bocconi.
    9. Alberto Palloni & Hiram Beltrán-Sánchez, 2017. "Discrete Barker Frailty and Warped Mortality Dynamics at Older Ages," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 54(2), pages 655-671, April.
    10. Eide, Eric R. & Showalter, Mark H., 2011. "Estimating the relation between health and education: What do we know and what do we need to know?," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 778-791, October.
    11. Hendrik Jürges & Eberhard Kruk & Steffen Reinhold, 2013. "The effect of compulsory schooling on health—evidence from biomarkers," Journal of Population Economics, Springer;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 26(2), pages 645-672, April.

    More about this item


    twins; schooling; education; health production; returns to education; siblings; ability bias;

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I11 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Analysis of Health Care Markets
    • J14 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of the Elderly; Economics of the Handicapped; Non-Labor Market Discrimination
    • J12 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Marriage; Marital Dissolution; Family Structure
    • C41 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Econometric and Statistical Methods: Special Topics - - - Duration Analysis; Optimal Timing Strategies

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