Reaping what we Sow: Early 20th Century State School Policies, Cognitive Skills, and Elder Health

Maria Glymour, Columbia University
Jennifer Manly, Columbia University

Although cognitive skills correlate with health, whether cognitive skills influence health remains controversial, in part because of the dynamic relationship between socioeconomic status and cognitive skills. We examine the influence of cognitive skills on health by estimating long-term health benefits of cognitive skills attained as a consequence of social policies. We treat measures of school quality (teacher-student ratio, teacher salaries, and term length) as instruments for cognitive skills in US-born whites from the 1901-1947 birth cohorts with less than 13 years of school. We use changes in state school quality to generate instrumental variable (IV) estimates of the effects of cognitive skills (vocabulary, mental status, and word list memory) on health (disability, self-rated health, and prevalence of chronic conditions) in Health and Retirement Study participants. We find that improvements in cognitive skills induced by school policies predict reductions in disability, independent of attained education and measured background factors.

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Presented in Session 57: Factors Influencing the Relationship between Socioeconomic Status and Adult Health