Educational attainment and allostatic load in later life: evidence using genetic markers

Publication type

Journal Article


Publication date

December 15, 2019


Education is strongly correlated with health outcomes in older adulthood. Whether the impact of education expansion improves health remains unclear due to a lack of clarity over the causal relationship. Previous health research within the social sciences has tended to use specific activities of daily living or self-reported health status. This study uses a broader and objective health measure – allostatic load (AL) – to take into consideration the exposures that accumulate throughout the life course. This paper applies a Mendelian Randomization (MR) approach to identify causality in relation to education on health as measured by AL. Using the Health and Retirement Study 2008 (N=3935), we adopt a polygenic score built from genetic variants associated with years of education. To test whether our analyses violate the exclusion assumption, we further run MR Egger regressions to test for bias from pleiotropy. We also explore the potential pathways between education and AL, including smoking, drinking, marital length, health insurance, etc. Using this genetic instrument, we find a 0.3 unit (19% of a standard deviation) reduction in AL per year of schooling. The effect is mainly driven by BMI and Hba1c. Smoking and marital stability are two potential pathways that also causally influenced by education. If our main and sensitivity analyses are valid, the results find support that a higher level of education is causally related to better health in older adulthood.

Published in

Preventive Medicine


Volume: 129:105866






Open Access

Under a Creative Commons license



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