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High School Composition and Health Outcomes in Adulthood: A Cohort Study


A multitude of empirical evidence documents links between education and health, but this focuses primarily on educational attainment and not on characteristics of the school setting. Little is known about the extent to which aggregate characteristics of the school setting, such as student body demographics, are associated with adult health outcomes. We use the U.S. nationally representative National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 cohort to statistically assess the association between two different measures of high school student composition (socioeconomic composition, racial/ethnic composition) and two different health outcomes at age 40 (self-rated health and obesity). After adjusting for confounders, high school socioeconomic composition, but not racial/ethnic composition, was weakly associated with both obesity and worse self-rated health at age 40. However, after adding adult educational attainment to the model, only the association between high school socioeconomic composition and obesity remained statistically significant. Future research should explore possible mechanisms and also if findings are similar across other populations and in other school contexts. These results suggest that education policies that seek to break the link between socioeconomic composition and negative outcomes remain important but may have few spillover effects onto health.

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