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Sheepskin or Prozac: The Causal Effect of Education on Mental Health


  • Arnaud Chevalier

    (Department of Economics, University of Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NP, England Associate at the Centre for Economics of Education, London School of Economics, Geary Institute, University College Dublin & Institute for the Study of Labour, IZA, Bonn)

  • Leon Feinstein

    (Institute of Education, Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H OAL, England Associate at the Centre for the Economics of Education, London School of Economics, England)


Mental illness is associated with large costs to individuals and society. Education improves various health outcomes but little work has been done on mental illness. To obtain unbiased estimates of the effect of education on mental health, we rely on a rich longitudinal dataset that contains health information from childhood to adulthood and thus allow us to control for fixed effects in mental health. We measure two health outcomes: malaise score and depression and estimate the extensive and intensive margins of education on mental health using various estimators. For all estimators, accounting for the endogeneity of education augments its protecting effect on mental health. We find that the effect of education is greater at mid-level of qualifications, for women and for individuals at greater risk of mental illness. The effects of education are observed at all ages, additionally education also reduces the transition to depression. These results suggest substantial returns to education in term of improved mental health.

Suggested Citation

  • Arnaud Chevalier & Leon Feinstein, 2007. "Sheepskin or Prozac: The Causal Effect of Education on Mental Health," Working Papers 200715, Geary Institute, University College Dublin.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucd:wpaper:200715

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    Cited by:

    1. Silva, Olmo, 2009. "Some Remarks on the Effectiveness of Primary Education Interventions," IZA Policy Papers 5, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    2. Smyth, Emer & McCoy, Selina, 2009. "Investing in Education: Combating Educational Disadvantage," Research Series, Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI), number RS006.
    3. Crespo, Laura & López-Noval, Borja & Mira, Pedro, 2014. "Compulsory schooling, education, depression and memory: New evidence from SHARELIFE," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 36-46.
    4. Daniel Graeber, 2017. "Does More Education Protect against Mental Health Problems?," DIW Roundup: Politik im Fokus 113, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    5. Powdthavee, Nattavudh & Lekfuangfu, Warn N. & Wooden, Mark, 2013. "The Marginal Income Effect of Education on Happiness: Estimating the Direct and Indirect Effects of Compulsory Schooling on Well-Being in Australia," IZA Discussion Papers 7365, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    6. Philip A. Trostel, 2007. "The fiscal impacts of college attainment," New England Public Policy Center Working Paper 07-2, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    7. Gibbons, Stephen & Silva, Olmo, 2011. "School quality, child wellbeing and parents' satisfaction," Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 312-331, April.
    8. Kuhn, Andreas & Lalive, Rafael & Zweimüller, Josef, 2009. "The public health costs of job loss," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 28(6), pages 1099-1115, December.
    9. Andreas KUHN & Rafael LALIVE & Josef ZWEIMÜLLER, 2007. "The Public Health Costs of Unemployment," Cahiers de Recherches Economiques du Département d'Econométrie et d'Economie politique (DEEP) 07.08, Université de Lausanne, Faculté des HEC, DEEP.
    10. Jeffrey S. DeSimone, 2010. "Sadness, Suicidality and Grades," NBER Working Papers 16239, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item


    Returns to education; mental health;

    JEL classification:

    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior
    • I29 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Education - - - Other

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