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The Long Run Health Returns to College Quality

Jason M. Fletcher and David E. Frisvold
CHCS Working Paper 2012-1
July 2012

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The link between education and health is one of the most robust empirical relationships in the social sciences. However, little research has examined the effects of educational quality on health outcomes. We estimate the long run relationship between health behaviors and graduating from a selective college in the 1960s using the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which has tracked siblings for over 50 years. Importantly, we control for measures of health endowments, ability, and time preferences before college enrollment as well as shared family and environmental factors. We find large effects of college selectivity on reducing overweight for individuals in their sixties.

JEL classification: I12, I21, J24

Key words: health production; college quality; obesity


This research was supported by the WLS pilot grant program (Fletcher and Frisvold), the National Institute on Aging (R01 AG027045, Fletcher), the Emory Global Health Institute (Frisvold), and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (Fletcher and Frisvold). The authors thank Griffin Edwards and John Zimmerman for excellent research assistance, and participants at the Academy Health, American Society of Health Economists, Annual Meeting on the Economics of Risky Behaviors, APPAM, and Southern Economic Association conferences, Dhaval Dave, Ezra Golberstein, Bo MacInnis, Dave Marcotte, and Jim Marton for helpful comments. This research uses data from the WLS of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Since 1991, the WLS has been supported principally by the National Institute on Aging (AG-9775 and AG-21079), with additional support from the Vilas Estate Trust, the National Science Foundation, the Spencer Foundation, and the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A public use file of data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study is available from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1180 Observatory Drive, Madison, Wisconsin 53706 and at http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/wlsresearch/data/. The opinions expressed herein are those of the authors. In particular, the authors thank Carol Roan for assistance with the restricted college data.

Please address questions regarding content to corresponding author Jason M. Fletcher, Yale University, School of Public Health, Division of Health Policy and Administration, 60 College St., New Haven, CT 06510, jason.fletcher@yale.edu, and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar, Columbia University, 420 W 118th St., New York , NY 10027; David E. Frisvold, Emory University, Department of Economics, 1602 Fishburne Dr., Atlanta, GA 30322-2240, 404-727-7833, david.frisvold@emory.edu.