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, 42 (2), 155-62

Higher Education and Psychological Distress: A 27-year Prospective Cohort Study in Sweden


Higher Education and Psychological Distress: A 27-year Prospective Cohort Study in Sweden

Annica Brännlund et al. Scand J Public Health.


Aims: Research identifies a positive link between education and a reduction of psychological distress, but few studies have analysed the long-term impact of education on psychological distress. This study followed the same cohort for 27 years, investigating the association between education and adult psychological distress. Further, it discuss whether the link can be understood through the mediating mechanisms of social and labour-market resources, furthermore, if the mechanisms operate differently for men and women.

Method: A 27-year prospective cohort study was performed at ages 16, 18, 21, 30 and 43. The cohort consisted of all students (n = 1083, of which 1001 are included in this study) in their final year of compulsory school in Sweden. Data were collected through comprehensive questionnaires (response rate 96.4%), and analysed with OLS regression, with psychological distress at age 21, 30 and 43 as dependent variable. Baseline psychological distress, measures of social and labour-market resources, and possible educational selection factors were used as independent variables. To compare the overall magnitude of educational differences, a kappa index was calculated.

Results: A positive relation between higher education and less psychological distress was found. When becoming older this relation weakens and a link between social and labour-market resources and psychological distress is observed, indicating that education in a long-term perspective operates through the suggested mechanisms. Additionally, the mechanisms work somewhat differently for men than for women: labour-market resources were significant for men and social resources were important for women.

Main findings: higher education is positively linked to less psychological distress, and the link can somewhat be understood through the mechanisms of social and labour-market resources.

Keywords: Education; labour market resources; longitudinal cohort study; psychological distress; social resources.

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