This paper investigates whether education buffers the impact of physical disability on psychological distress. It further investigates what makes education helpful, by examining whether cognitive ability and occupational class can explain the buffering effect of education. Two waves of the 1958 British National Child Development Study are used to test the hypothesis that the onset of a physical disability in early adulthood (age 23 to 33) has a smaller effect on psychological distress among higher educated people. In total 423 respondents (4.6%) experienced the onset of a physical disability between the ages of 23 and 33. We find that a higher educational level cushions the psychology impact of disability. Cognitive ability and occupational class protect against the effect of a disability too. The education buffer arises in part because individuals with a higher level of education have more cognitive abilities, but the better social position of those with higher levels of education appears to be of greater importance. Implications of these findings for the social gradient in health are discussed.
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