Does a college education reduce depressive symptoms in American young adults?

Michael J. McFarland, Brandon G. Wagner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Higher levels of educational attainment are consistently associated with better mental health. Whether this association represents an effect of education on mental health, however, is less clear as omitted variable bias remains a pressing concern with education potentially serving as a proxy for unobserved factors including family background and genetics. To combat this threat and come closer to a causal estimate of the effect of education on depressive symptoms, this study uses data on 231 monozygotic twin pairs from The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health and employs a twin-pair difference-in-difference design to account for both unobserved shared factors between twin pairs (e.g. home, school, and neighborhood environment throughout childhood) and a number of observed non-shared but theoretically relevant factors (e.g. cognitive ability, personality characteristics, adolescent health). We find an inverse association between possessing a college degree and depressive symptoms in both conventional and difference-in-difference models. Results of this study also highlight the potentially overlooked role of personality characteristics in the education and mental health literature.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)75-84
Number of pages10
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015


  • Causal inference
  • Depressive symptoms
  • Education
  • Twins


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