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Approved research

Does longer compulsory schooling affect mental health? Evidence from a British reform

Principal Investigator: Mr Vahé Nafilyan
Approved Research ID: 47464
Approval date: July 3rd 2019

Lay summary

There is a strong positive relationship between education and health in most countries regardless of their level of development. A growing number of studies have exploited changes in compulsory schooling laws to test the hypothesis that increasing schooling duration has beneficial effects on health. The purpose of this study is to provide new evidence on the mental health effect of extending the duration of compulsory schooling. Despite having significant public health and economic consequences, mental health has received less attention in the literature. From a theoretical perspective, it is unclear whether extending compulsory schooling would improve mental health. The net effect of raising the minimum school leaving age depends on the reasons why adolescents choose to leave school early. If dropping out is the optimal choice for a sub-group, then economic theory predicts that extending compulsory schooling generate negative returns. In this study, we test whether longer compulsory schooling has a causal effect on mental health, exploiting a 1972 reform which raised the minimum school leaving age from 15 to 16 years old in Great Britain. We estimate the long-run effect of the reform on a range of mental health outcomes. Results based on data from two large household surveys suggest that the reform increased the prevalence of depression and other mental health conditions in adulthood. We would like to test whether we can find similar results using the data from the Biobank's comprehensive mental health questionnaire.