The Roles of High School Completion and GED Receipt in Smoking and Obesity

Donald Kenkel, Cornell University
Dean R. Lillard, Cornell University
Alan Mathios, Cornell University

We analyze data from the NLSY79 to explore the relationships between high school completion, smoking, and obesity. We focus on three issues. First, we investigate whether GED recipients differ from traditional high school graduates. Second, we explore the extent to which the relationships between high school completion and these health-related behaviors are sensitive to controlling for family background measures and cognitive ability. Third, we estimate instrumental variables (IV) models of the impact of schooling on smoking and obesity. Although our IV estimates are imprecise, both the OLS and IV results tend to suggest that the returns to traditional high school completion include a reduction in smoking. We find little evidence that high school completion is associated with lower body mass for either men or women. The results also suggest that the health returns to GED receipt are much smaller than the possible returns to traditional high school completion.

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Presented in Session 147: Causal Effects of Schooling on Demographic and Health Outcomes