Why is it that low levels of education are associated with worse adult health and higher mortality? Despite decades of research, we know surprisingly little about the mechanisms through which education influences mortality and health. Though a dense literature documents the mediating role of factors such as income, risk behaviors, and environmental exposures, there are only a handful of investigations that explore early environments (genetic, material, familial, social and emotional). In this project, we focus on very early conditions (some inherited) that drive the child's physical and mental growth and development, including episodes of ill health, but more broadly exposure to a range of stressors linked to deprivation, family characteristics and parental behavior and expectations. We conjecture that these factors contribute to the formation of cognitive and non cognitive resources that influence educational attainment and, ultimately, adult physical and mental health. As an important innovation, part of our investigation will focus on specific genetic traits recently suspected to be involved in the modification of the effects of educational attainment (or of some of the factors responsible for it) on mental health.
The aims of this project will include 1) developing a methodology to estimate the importance of cognitive and non-cognitive factors as mechanisms that mediate the relationship between education and health by decomposing the effects of education on health and mortality into a component due to cognitive and non-cognitive traits and another due to standard factors (i.e. material resources, health behaviors);2) testing the hypothesis that educational attainment has become a stronger determinant of health and mortality across time in part because of the salience of early conditions as determinants of both educational attainment and health status and mortality and 3) evaluating the role of genetic endowments in moderating the relationship between education and mental health outcomes.

Public Health Relevance

The proposed research is part of an effort to understand the relationship between education and health across the life course and across cohorts. We explore the role of genetic endowments, early life adverse experiences, cognitive and non-cognitive resources, as well as traditional mechanisms such as material resources.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Program Projects (P01)
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Brigham and Women's Hospital
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