Understanding the Links between Education and Smoking

Publication Date: 
September 2014
Social Science Research, Volume 48, November 2014, Pages 20–34


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This study extends the theoretical and empirical literature on the relationship between education and smoking by focusing on the life course links between experiences from adolescence and health outcomes in adulthood. Differences in smoking by completed education are apparent at ages 12–18, long before that education is acquired. I use characteristics from the teenage years, including social networks, future expectations, and school experiences measured before the start of smoking regularly to predict smoking in adulthood. Results show that school policies, peers, and youths’ mortality expectations predict smoking in adulthood but that college aspirations and analytical skills do not. I also show that smoking status at age 16 predicts both completed education and adult smoking, controlling for an extensive set of covariates. Overall, educational inequalities in smoking are better understood as a bundling of advantageous statuses that develops in childhood, rather than the effect of education producing better health.