DRU The Education Effect and the Demography of Risk: Comparing Unschooled and Schooled on Everday Reasoning and Decision-making about Alcohol Use

Project: Research project

Project Details


Explaining the Education Effect and the Demography of Risk: Comparing Unschooled and Schooled on Everyday Reasoning and Decision-making Skills about Health Behavior

CO-PIs: David Baker, Penn State University; Martin Benavides, The Group for Analysis of Development, Lima Peru; Ellen Peters, Decision Research, Eugene OR


This multidisciplinary project combines cognitive science and the psychology of decision making with cross-cultural sociology of education to test how formal schooling influences reasoning and decision-making skills used to navigate everyday health risks. Basic education is now rapidly expanding around the world, and demographic literature brims with results showing the robust positive association between formal schooling and health. The education effect is so large that education is often assumed to be a major cause of the demographic transition of modern society, which consists of reduced mortality and fertility, and longer life spans. While most demographers and health researchers acknowledge the persistent and significant association between formal schooling and positive health outcomes, why education has this influence is not well understood and a multidisciplinary investigation of how this effect occurs is the chief intellectual merit of the proposed study. It is hypothesized that schooling, through the teaching of subjects like mathematics, enhances reasoning, risk-assessment and decision-making skills that schooled individuals bring to bear on everyday health risks.

The innovation of the proposed project is that it tests an explanation of education?s association with health by comparing unschooled and moderately schooled adults on their numeracy ability, cognitive skill, reasoning about risk, and decision-making skills related to health behaviors in the Peruvian Andes, where local conditions allow for a found-quasi-experiment on the effects of education.

Broader impacts of this project include the potential to design more effective education for the significant parts of the world that have yet to reap the health benefits of the demographic transition and must do so rapidly to emerge out of the extreme poverty that hinders their long-term development. Hypothesizing links between schooling and basic cognitive-skill enhancement and, through them, improved decision making is a new approach to considering the wide impact of schooling on health behavior, a major social issue facing the future of human society. Many non-government organizations are attempting to use various educational approaches to improve individuals? health decisions in poor nations. Without a clear understanding of how to make the most of limited education resources, these efforts will not yield the positive social change envisioned.

Effective start/end date10/1/089/30/12


  • National Science Foundation: $696,000.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.