Why a degree could be good for your health

August 10, 2001

Getting a degree makes you less likely to get depressed or drunk, but more susceptible to eating disorders, according to new research, writes Alison Utley.

John Bynner, director of the Institute of Education's Centre for Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning, said it was well known that graduates earned more but until now little was understood about how their day-to-day lives were transformed.

Professor Bynner said: "Education has been dominated for too long by a narrow concern with economic outcomes. Our research makes it plain that for the government to neglect the wider benefits would be damaging not only to the individual but to society."

The research, Modelling and Measuring the Wider Benefits of Learning , draws on previous studies both in the United Kingdom and the United States. It reveals a strong correlation between education and good health, and shows that going through university generally results in a tendency towards increased wellbeing.

Graduates were more likely to shift from a reactive to a proactive approach to life and had a better ability to handle stress and crisis. They gained a better understanding of the preventive effect of early intervention during illness and tended towards increased self-confidence and motivation. They were also less likely to face mental health problems.

But the picture is not all rosy. The research found that highly educated people seemed to be more vulnerable to certain conditions, such as chronic fatigue syndrome and some eating disorders. The children of graduates seemed more likely to have allergies and atopic disabilities.

More educated women were found to start and finish having children later in life, and there was evidence of an increased likelihood of divorce for women with degrees compared with those who had no qualifications. The reverse appeared to be true for men.

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