26 March 2015

Surprisingly, higher education doesn't seem to improve levels of happiness

by Will Parker

In an intriguing new study, University of Warwick researchers say that while low educational attainment is associated with mental illness, happiness - or mental wellbeing - was equally likely across all levels of educational attainment.

The study, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, set out to examine socioeconomic factors related to high mental wellbeing, such as level of education and personal finances. It used existing data from the Health Survey for England in which the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale was administered to 17,030 survey participants.

High mental wellbeing was defined as "feeling good and functioning well." People with high levels of mental wellbeing manage to feel happy and contented with their lives more often than those who don't because of the way they manage problems and challenges.

The team found all levels of educational attainment had similar odds of high mental well-being.

"These findings are quite controversial because we expected to find the socioeconomic factors that are associated with mental illness would also be correlated with mental wellbeing. So if low educational attainment was strongly associated with mental illness, high educational attainment would be strongly connected to mental well-being. But that is not the case," said the study's lead author Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown.

She added that the correlates of high mental well-being are different from those of low mental well-being, but the latter closely mirror the correlates of mental illness. "Assumptions about socioeconomic determinants made in planning public mental health programs focusing on the prevention of mental illness may therefore not be applicable to programs aiming to increase mental well-being," she concluded.

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Source: University of Warwick