Education is strongly associated with better health and longer lives. However, the extent to which education causes health and longevity is widely debated. We develop a human capital framework to structure the interpretation of the empirical evidence and review evidence on the causal effects of education on mortality and its two most common preventable causes: smoking and obesity. We focus attention on evidence from randomized controlled trials, twin studies, and quasi-experiments. There is no convincing evidence of an effect of education on obesity, and the effects on smoking are only apparent when schooling reforms affect individuals’ track or their peer group, but not when they simply increase the duration of schooling. An effect of education on mortality exists in some contexts but not in others and seems to depend on (i) gender, (ii) the labor market returns to education, (iii) the quality of education, and (iv) whether education affects the quality of individuals’ peers.
Titus Galama, Adriana Lleras-Muney, and Hans van Kippersluis
Obesity is widely recognized as a chronic disease characterized by an elevated risk of adverse health conditions in association with excess body fat accumulation. Obesity prevalence reached epidemic proportions among adults in the developed world during the second half of the 20th century, and it has since become a major public health concern around the world, particularly among children and adolescents. The economics of childhood and adolescent obesity is a multi-faceted field of study that considers the numerous determinants, consequences, and interventions related to obesity in those populations. The central economic framework for studying obesity is a life-cycle decision-making model of health investment. Health-promoting investments, such as nutritional food, healthcare, and physical activity, interact with genetic structure and risky health behaviors, such as unhealthy food consumption, to generate an accumulation or decumulation of excess body fat over time. Childhood and adolescence are the primary phases of physical and cognitive growth, so researchers study how obesity contributes to, and is affected by, the growth processes. The subdiscipline of behavioral economics offers an important complementary perspective on health investment decision processes, particularly for children and adolescents, because health investments and participation in risky health behaviors are not always undertaken rationally or consistently over time. In addition to examining the proximate causes of obesity over the life cycle, economists study obesity’s economic context and resulting economic burden. For example, economists study how educational attainment, income, and labor market features, such as wage and work hours, affect childhood and adolescent obesity in a household. Once obesity has developed, its economic burden is typically measured in terms of excess healthcare costs associated with increased health risks due to higher obesity prevalence, such as earlier onset of, and more severe, diabetes. Obesity among children and adolescents can lead to even higher healthcare costs because of its early influence on the lifetime trajectory of health and its potential disruption of healthy development. The formulation of effective policy responses to the obesity epidemic is informed by economic research. Economists evaluate whether steps to address childhood and adolescent obesity represent investments in health and well-being that yield private and social benefits, and they study whether existing market structures fail to appropriately motivate such investments. Potential policy interventions include taxation of, or restricting access to, obesogenic foods and other products, subsidization of educational programs about healthy foods and physical activity inside and outside of schools, ensuring health insurance coverage for obesity-related preventive and curative healthcare services, and investment in the development of new treatments and medical technologies.
Pei-Ju Liao and Chong Kee Yip
In the past century, many developing countries have experienced rapid economic development, which is usually associated with a process of structural transformation and urbanization. Rural–urban migration, shifting the labor force from less productive agricultural sectors to more productive industrial sectors in cities, plays an important role in the growth process and thus has drawn economists’ attention. For instance, it is recognized that one of the important sources of China’s growth miracle is rural–urban migration. At the early stage of economic development, an economy usually relies on labor-intensive industries for growth. Rural–urban migrants thus provide the necessary labor force to urban production. Since they are more productive in industrial sectors than in agricultural sectors, aggregate output increases and economic growth accelerates. In addition, abundant migrants affect the rates of return to capital by changing the capital–labor ratio. They also change the skill composition of the urban labor force and hence the relative wage of skilled to unskilled workers. Therefore, rural–urban migration has wide impacts on growth and income distribution of the macroeconomy. What are the forces that drive rural–urban migration? It is well understood that cities attract rural migrants because of better job opportunities, better career prospects, and higher wages. Moreover, enjoying better social benefits such as better medical care in cities is another pull factor that initiates rural–urban migration. Finally, agricultural land scarcity in the countryside plays an important role on the push side for moving labor to cities. The aforementioned driving forces of rural–urban migration are work-based. However, rural–urban migration could be education-based, which is rarely discussed in the literature. In the past decade, it has been proposed that cities are the places for accumulating human capital in work. It is also well established that most of the high-quality education institutions (including universities and specialized schools for art and music) are located in urban areas. A youth may first move to the city to attend college and then stay there for work after graduation. From this point of view, work-based migration does not paint the whole picture of rural–urban migration. In this article, we propose a balanced view that both the work-based and education-based channels are important to rural–urban migration. The migration story could be misleading if any of them is ignored.