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Student Aid, Higher Education, and Long-Run Health

Barton Willage

American Journal of Health Economics, 2022, vol. 8, issue 4, 549 - 579

Abstract: Financial aid lowers the cost of higher education and improves educational attainment. Based on the correlation between education and health, one might expect aid to improve health, but little evidence exists. I use a shock in Social Security benefits that occurred in 1981 to test the relationship between aid, education, and health. Minor children of retired, disabled, or deceased parents are eligible for their own Social Security benefits, and until 1981 college-aged recipients could continue to receive these benefits conditional on college enrollment. Using difference-in-differences, I show that aid reduced women’s long-run body mass index and general health, but had no effect on men. I find that financial aid improved educational attainment for beneficiaries, which is the plausible mechanism between aid and health. Consistent with the effects on health, the educational effects are concentrated in women. Finally, I use Social Security benefits as an instrument for attending college to estimate the effect of education on long-run weight and general health.

Date: 2022
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