The effect of education on subjective well-being and mental health is an understudied topic, with the existing literature focusing mostly on how education affects physical health outcomes. The lack of attention to psychological well-being outcomes is especially surprising given initiatives to use subjective well-being to supplement or even replace traditional measures of progress and policy evaluation such as GDP and income. There is a strong association between education and later life mental health and well-being (Cutler and Lleras- Muney 2006; Deaton and Kahneman 2010), which a necessary but not sufficient condition for a causal relation running from education to psychological well-being. First, early life health might affect educational attainment. In addition, third factors such as environmental circumstances and endowed abilities can drive both educational choices and well-being. Importantly, environmental circumstances and endowments most likely interact in the production of psychological well-being, so that endowments moderate environmental effects (or vice-versa). In this exploratory R21, we will investigate how one environmental circumstance interacts with endowed abilities to produce later life psychological well-being. Specifically, we will study a school reform that exogenously increased secondary education and test how its well-being effects vary with individual genetic predisposition to high educational attainment. We define psychological well-being as not only absence of mental illness but also the presence of positive subjective well-being. We hypothesize that the productivity of schooling investments depends on genetically determined ability, and that the sign of this relationship varies with the outcome under study. Heckman et al. (2017), for example, find that while the monetary returns to education are higher for high ability individuals, the non-monetary benefits, including mental health, are larger for low-ability persons. We exploit England's Raising of School Leaving Age Order of 1972 as a natural experiment to uncover the causal effects of education on psychological well-being. This policy increased the minimum school-leaving age from 15 to 16 years for all students born on or after September 1st 1957, generating a well-documented discontinuity in education. By comparing the well-being of those born before and after 9/1/1957, we will investigate whether this extra schooling had an effect on health 35 years later. By testing if these effects vary by genetic predisposition to education, we can study gene-environment interactions. We will estimate the effects of education on a number of well-being measures, allowing us to test if education affects different well-being measures differently. It might increase stress while at the same time improving life satisfaction, for example. To what extent can educational policy increase life's prospects and improve later life well-being? Are there well- being dimensions that are harmed by education? How do policies and genotypes interact to produce health and well-being? We aim to answer these questions by combining a large dataset with a number of well-being measures, a well-documented natural experiment and recently developed methods in behavioral genetics.

Public Health Relevance

Despite initiatives to use subjective well-being to supplement or even replace traditional measures of policy success, there is little evidence on how educational policies affect well-being and whether effects vary with endowed ability. We will study how extra secondary education driven by a change in compulsory schooling age affects later life psychological well-being and test if the effects vary with genetic predisposition to high education.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Exploratory/Developmental Grants (R21)
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Social Sciences and Population Studies A Study Section (SSPA)
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Karraker, Amelia Wilkes
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University of Southern California
Social Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
Los Angeles
United States
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