The Evolution of the Schooling-Smoking Gradient
Posted: 22 Jun 2007
Date Written: June 2007
We explore how the schooling-smoking gradient has evolved over time. Using data from 11 Gallup Surveys conducted between 1954 and 1999, we find that the schooling-smoking gradient first emerged in tandem with a schooling-health knowledge gradient. As early as 1957, a schooling-knowledge gradient developed, with 62 percent of college graduates agreeing that smoking was a cause of lung cancer, compared to only 46 percent of those with less than a college degree. After the mid-1970s, the schooling-knowledge gradient began to flatten but the schooling-smoking gradient did not. To further explore the role of health knowledge, we tighten our focus to the schooling-smoking cessation gradient. We use contemporaneous and retrospective information on smoking cessation from six cycles of the Tobacco Use Supplements to the Current Population Survey (TUS-CPS). We again document the evolution of a strong gradient: In the 1950s, smoking cessation rates were low and similar across schooling categories, but by 1987 the smoking cessation rate for smokers with a college education was about double the rate for high school dropouts. We test two hypotheses based on possible roles health knowledge may have played in the schooling-cessation gradient. Our first hypothesis is that the gradient should be steeper in the cohorts who initiated smoking before the spread of knowledge about the health consequences. In these cohorts, there will be more people who started smoking only because of their lack of health knowledge, so we expect that as the knowledge spreads they will decide to quit. Our second hypothesis is that the gradient steepens after the introduction of effective pharmaceutical products for smoking cessation. Schooling may have helped smokers learn about and adopt the new products more quickly.
Keywords: schooling, smoking, health knowledge
JEL Classification: I12
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation