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Higher education and psychological distress: a 27-year prospective cohort study in Sweden
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Sociology.
Umeå University, Faculty of Medicine, Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine, Family Medicine.
2014 (English)In: Scandinavian Journal of Public Health, ISSN 1403-4948, E-ISSN 1651-1905, Vol. 42, no 2, 155-162 p.Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

Aims: Research identifies a positive link between education and a reduction of psychological distress, but few studies have analysed the long-term impact of education on psychological distress. This study followed the same cohort for 27 years, investigating the association between education and adult psychological distress. Further, it discuss whether the link can be understood through the mediating mechanisms of social and labour-market resources, furthermore, if the mechanisms operate differently for men and women. Method: A 27-year prospective cohort study was performed at ages 16, 18, 21, 30 and 43. The cohort consisted of all students (n = 1083, of which 1001 are included in this study) in their final year of compulsory school in Sweden. Data were collected through comprehensive questionnaires (response rate 96.4%), and analysed with OLS regression, with psychological distress at age 21, 30 and 43 as dependent variable. Baseline psychological distress, measures of social and labour-market resources, and possible educational selection factors were used as independent variables. To compare the overall magnitude of educational differences, a kappa index was calculated. Results: A positive relation between higher education and less psychological distress was found. When becoming older this relation weakens and a link between social and labour-market resources and psychological distress is observed, indicating that education in a long-term perspective operates through the suggested mechanisms. Additionally, the mechanisms work somewhat differently for men than for women: labour-market resources were significant for men and social resources were important for women. Conclusions: Main findings: higher education is positively linked to less psychological distress, and the link can somewhat be understood through the mechanisms of social and labour-market resources.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Sage Publications, 2014. Vol. 42, no 2, 155-162 p.
Keyword [en]
education, labour market resources, longitudinal cohort study, psychological distress, social resources
National Category
Public Health, Global Health, Social Medicine and Epidemiology Environmental Health and Occupational Health
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-87643DOI: 10.1177/1403494813511559ISI: 000331371600006OAI: diva2:711258
Available from: 2014-04-09 Created: 2014-04-07 Last updated: 2014-05-08Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Non-market outcomes of education: the long-term impact of education on individuals' social participation and health in Sweden
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Non-market outcomes of education: the long-term impact of education on individuals' social participation and health in Sweden
2014 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

In research, it is typical to analyse and discuss the utility of education in economic terms—specifically the market value of a particular degree or the financial returns associated with additional years in higher education. However, education may also generate outcomes that belong to the non-market sphere, such as open-mindedness, societal cohesion, community involvement, better health, and gender equality; yet these outcomes have received little scholarly attention. The main objective of this thesis, therefore, is to investigate the relationship between education and four non-market outcomes: agency, voice, health behaviour and psychological distress. By utilizing two longitudinal data sets, the Swedish Survey of Living Conditions and the Northern Swedish Cohort, it is possible to assess the long-term effects of education on each of these four non-market outcomes.

Results clearly demonstrate that education has a critical impact on each of the outcomes of interest. Having a higher education—and in particular a university degree–enhances individuals’ agency and voice, reduces psychological distress, and improves individuals’ health behaviour. Further, results show that different academic subjects generate field-specific resources. In contrast to a market perspective, where the value of the specific field of study is assessed only in economic terms, results indicate that fields that are commonly viewed as having low market value may actually yield non-economic rewards that benefit individuals in critically important ways.

Analyses also show that individual and social factors shape the extent to which education leads to positive outcomes. In terms of agency and voice, results indicate that education can compensate for social differences. Among those with a working class background, earning a university degree contributes to increasing levels of agency and voice, while no significant effects of education exist for those with a white-collar background. Results also demonstrate that the impact of education on psychological well-being differs for men and women. For men, labour market resources (i.e., being employed) was important for reducing psychological distress, while for women social resources (i.e., having a partner) was more important.

Due to its use of high quality, longitudinal data, this thesis makes a significant contribution to the scholarly literature and to what we know about the impact of education attainment. A limitation of cross-sectional analyses is that it is difficult to separate causal effects from selection effects. By adopting a longitudinal approach, it is possible to control for earlier (baseline) circumstances and therefore assess the causal impact of education on individual outcomes. This strategy yields robust results that make clear the long-term effects of educational attainment on individuals.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå universitet, 2014. 38 p.
Akademiska avhandlingar vid Sociologiska institutionen, Umeå universitet, ISSN 1104-2508 ; 74
education, non-market outcomes, agency, voice, health behaviour, psychological distress, longitudinal design, capability approach, Sweden
National Category
Social Sciences
Research subject
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-88369 (URN)978-91-7601-051-8 (ISBN)
Public defence
2014-05-30, Hörsal 1031, Norra beteendevetarhuset, Umeå universitet, Umeå, 13:15 (English)
Available from: 2014-05-09 Created: 2014-05-05 Last updated: 2014-05-09Bibliographically approved

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