Does better education mitigate risky health behavior? A mendelian randomization study

Econ Hum Biol. 2022 Mar 23;46:101134. doi: 10.1016/j.ehb.2022.101134. Online ahead of print.


Education and risky health behaviors are strongly negatively correlated. Education may affect health behaviors by enabling healthier choices through higher disposable income, increasing information about the harmful effects of risky health behaviors, or altering time preferences. Alternatively, the observed negative correlation may stem from reverse causality or unobserved confounders. Based on the data from the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study linked to register-based information on educational attainment and family background, this paper identifies the causal effect of education on risky health behaviors. To examine causal effects, we used a genetic score as an instrument for years of education. We found that individuals with higher education allocated more attention to healthy habits. In terms of health behaviors, highly educated people were less likely to smoke. Some model specifications also indicated that the highly educated consumed more fruit and vegetables, but the results were imprecise in this regard. No causal effect was found between education and abusive drinking. In brief, inference based on genetic instruments showed that higher education leads to better choices in some but not all dimensions of health behaviors.

Keywords: Abusive drinking; Diet; Education; Health behavior; Mendelian randomization; Smoking.