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The Implicit Impact of Education

By Amber Chao

Does keeping students in school longer help contribute to their overall health and wellbeing later? UCI’s assistant professor Damon Clark says no, according to his research finding published in Oct. 2013, titled “The Effect of Education on Adult Mortality and Health: Evidence from Britain” in the American Economics Review.

Recently joining the Department of Economics at the University of California, Irvine, Clark provides insight into the largely correlated relationship between education and health outcomes. The research that led Clark and his co-author Heather Royer, an assistant professor at UC Santa Barbara, to believe that longer schooling does not lead to better health examines the statistics collected during a time when students in England had to stay in school for a year longer.

“We compared data such as mortality rates and a health survey of people born in 1933 whom the change in the law impacted, to measure to what extent is education a cause of better health,” Clark said.

The act, known as the “Raising of school leaving age,” raised the legal age of children allowed to leave compulsory education from 14 to 15 years old in 1947 and 15 to 16 years old in 1976.

“By looking at the population affected by the law, we find that there’s no statistically significant effect of education on the health of these people,” Clark said.

The interesting finding has guided Damon to explore yet another perspective: teen pregnancy. Using his strength of studying economic issues relating to education, Clark now wants to know how education law could possibly alter the ever-increasing teen fertility rates.

According to Clark, the findings he has discovered so far confirms that putting teenage girls in school longer can lower the pregnancy rates. But now, he has to also find out why.

“What are the reasons for [the lower fertility rate]? Is it because of the kind of guy they get to meet [in different years of schooling] or is it that they don’t want to give birth while still at school?” Clark asked, in a gesture of trying to figure out the mechanics behind the choice that many teenage girls make.

“Teen fertility is a challenging area because we don’t have a lot of quantitative data on what is going through the minds of the people who get pregnant as a teenager,” Clark said. “The type of quantitative analysis that I do is hard to get that kind of information.”

Clark’s research will continue with a $30,000 funding from the Spencer Foundation to extend his line of inquiry.

Besides conducting research, Clark also teaches several courses including “Microeconomics and Public Policy,” which lets students learn and apply the facets of economics in the making of policy, for the Masters in Public Policy program, a two-year track focusing on the studies of public policy.

Clark said, “I would advise students who have an interest in public policy to have a look at the course.”