Education, Knowledge and the Evolution of Disparities in Health

52 Pages Posted: 29 Mar 2010 Last revised: 14 Apr 2022

See all articles by Anna Aizer

Anna Aizer

Brown University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Laura Stroud

Brown Medical School - Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine; The Miriam Hospital

Date Written: March 2010

Abstract

We study how advances in scientific knowledge affect the evolution of disparities in health. Our focus is the 1964 Surgeon General Report on Smoking and Health - the first widely publicized report of the negative effects of smoking on health. Using an historical dataset that includes the smoking habits of pregnant women 1959-1966, we find that immediately after the 1964 Report, more educated mothers immediately reduced their smoking as measured by both self-reports and serum cotinine levels, while the less educated did not, and that the relative health of their newborns likewise increased. We also find strong peer effects in the response to information: after the 1964 report, educated women surrounded by other educated women were more likely to reduce smoking relative to those surrounded by less educated women. Over time, the education gradient in both smoking and newborn health continued to increase, peaking in the 1980s and then shrinking, eventually returning to initial levels. These results can explain why in an era of great advancements in medical knowledge, health disparities may actually increase, at least initially.

Suggested Citation

Aizer, Anna and Stroud, Laura, Education, Knowledge and the Evolution of Disparities in Health (March 2010). NBER Working Paper No. w15840, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1578678

Anna Aizer (Contact Author)

Brown University - Department of Economics ( email )

64 Waterman Street
Providence, RI 02912
United States
401-863-3836 (Phone)

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Laura Stroud

Brown Medical School - Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine ( email )

Providence, RI 02912
United States

The Miriam Hospital

164 Summit Avenue
Providence, RI 02906
United States

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