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Why are Educated Adults Slim — Causation or Selection?

Social Science & Medicine 105 (3), 131–139

31 Pages Posted: 9 May 2012 Last revised: 1 Nov 2014

Paul T. von Hippel

University of Texas at Austin - Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs

Jamie L. Lynch

Saint Norbert College - Department of Sociology

Date Written: May 8, 2012

Abstract

More educated adults tend to have lower body mass index (BMI) and a lower risk of overweight and obesity. We contrast two explanations for this education gradient in BMI. One explanation is selection: adolescents who have lower BMI are more likely to plan for, attend, and complete higher levels of education. An alternative explanation is causation: higher education confers lifelong social, economic, and psychological benefits that help adults to restrain BMI growth. We test the relative importance of selection and causation using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 1997 cohort (NLSY97), which tracks BMI from adolescence (age 15) through young adulthood (age 29). Ordinal regression models confirm that lower-BMI adolescents do select into higher education. Fixed-effects models suggest that the causal effect of education on BMI is significant but accounts for only one-quarter of the mean BMI differences between more and less educated adults at age 29. Among young adults, it appears that most of the education gradient in BMI is due to selection.

Keywords: education, health, obesity, overweight

JEL Classification: I10, I20

Suggested Citation

von Hippel, Paul T. and Lynch, Jamie L., Why are Educated Adults Slim — Causation or Selection? (May 8, 2012). Social Science & Medicine 105 (3), 131–139. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2054843 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2054843

Paul T. Von Hippel (Contact Author)

University of Texas at Austin - Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs ( email )

2315 Red River, Box Y
Austin, TX 78712
United States

Jamie L. Lynch

Saint Norbert College - Department of Sociology ( email )

Boyle Hall 404
100 Grant Street
De Pere, WI 54115
United States

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