More Education Leads to Less Crime, Better Health and Greater Political Participation

The case for a strong public education system that provides a comprehensive education to the end of secondary school for all children has received strong support from extensive research evidence which shows that completion of secondary school has significant social benefits.

A study just published by the US Bureau of Economic Research has found that a growing body of research evidence shows that more education reduces crime, improves health, lowers mortality, and increases political participation. It says that the social benefits from these impacts can be large.

Studies show that high school completion in the United States may lower the annual social costs of crime by roughly $3,000 per male graduate. Increasing high school completion rates in the U.S. by one percentage point would reap a savings of more than $2 billion.

The evidence from studies of educational attainment on crime show that increases in schooling reduce most types of adult crime, including both property and violent crime. The effects are largely accounted for a link between increased schooling and increased wages and the effects of higher wages on crime reduction.

The largest reductions in crime appear to result from the final years of high school. This suggests that policies that encourage high school completion would be most promising in terms of their impacts on crime. In general, policies designed to encourage schooling among more crime-prone groups are likely to produce the greatest benefits from crime reduction.

Several recent surveys of the literature on education and health have found that education is more strongly correlated with health than is income or occupation. Education tends to enhance the ability of people to acquire and process health information or to follow more complicated treatments. Education also generally increases earnings, which makes costly health care and insurance purchases more affordable. An increase in income also raises the demand for health and longevity.

Studies of the impact of education on mortality show a variety of effects, from small to large. Other studies show that the annual benefits from reductions in mortality are likely to be about $1,500-2,500 per additional graduate.

There is very little evidence on the effects of education on objective measures of health in individuals. However, many studies show that education significantly reduces smoking but has negligible effects on obesity.

A large literature demonstrates a strong correlation between educational attainment and political participation, voting, and civic awareness at the individual level. Countries with higher average years of primary schooling also have greater electoral rights and civil liberties.

There is strong evidence from the US that education leads to a more informed and engaged citizenry. Several studies show that high school graduation has increases voter registration and voting participation by a large amount. Other studies show that additional years of high school significantly increase interest in politics, efforts to acquire information about political issues/campaigns, and beliefs in freedom of speech.

Trevor Cobbold

Lance Lochner, The Non-Production Benefits of Education: Crime, Health and Good Citizenship, Working Paper No. 16722, National Bureau of Economic Research, January 2011.

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