Better Grades = Healthier Lives

Forrest Gump’s mother always used to say that stupid is as stupid does. Apparently, stupid does not really take care of themselves too well. Thus, stupid is unhealthy. There have been plenty of studies over the years that show people who graduate high school lead much healthier lives than those that don’t and that college graduates stay even healthier.

But why?

Sure there are the obvious factors like earning more money or having access to better health care, but there are many more that you don’t think about too often. Completing 12 years of education instills many characteristics in people that can alter the course of a life including dependability, judgement and motivation. In turn, these affect one’s self-discipline, autonomy, personal growth, positive relationships and other personal traits necessary to maintain healthy behaviors or manage chronic diseases with the necessary vigilance. These types of educational outcomes are called noncognitive psychological human capital.

On the other hand, there is what you actually learn while in school. Your academic performance, the knowledge you gain in math, science, music, art, English and the like, is called cognitive human capital.

So which one is responsible for the healthy outcomes? Both?


In a new paper published by Pamela Herd from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Herd discovers that what you learn is much more important to your health later in life than the personality that schooling develops. What’s more, the better you do in school, the better your health will be down the road.

Herd took advantage of the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which has managed to keep track of half of its original 10,000 participants born in 1939 all the way from 1957 through 2005. Sifting through data including grades, test scores, personality profiles, hard facts on health, and self-reported feelings of both physical and emotional health, she discovered that, in her own words, “In short, it is not simply educational attainment that improves health; academic performance plays a critical role. Personality and psychological orientations, however, do little to mediate the relationship between education and self-reported health and chronic conditions.”

Whatever the reasons – better jobs, more money, better health care, more knowledge on health issues, etc. – it obviously pays to hit the books hard K-12. So keep on your kids, it may just save their lives.


About bigkingken

A science writer dedicated to proving that the Big Ten - or the Committee on Institutional Cooperation, if you will - is more than athletics.
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