Essays on Human Capital, Income and Health

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


In this dissertation I focus on the interactions between mental health and other aspects of human capital. In the first chapter, I examine whether longer compulsory schooling has a causal effect on mental health, exploiting a 1972 reform which raised the minimum school leaving age from age 15 to 16 in Great Britain. Using a regression discontinuity design, I find that the reform did not improve mental health. I provide evidence that extending the duration of compulsory schooling impacts mental health through channels other than increased educational attainment. I argue that these effects may mitigate or offset the health returns to increased educational attainment.

In the second chapter, I examine the long-term labour market effects of Entry to Employment (E2E), an intervention designed to improve the non-cognitive skills of low-achieving adolescents in England. Using an instrumental variable (IV) approach, I find that E2E courses substantially increased earnings of participants in the long-run. The increase is primarily driven by a large and significant effect on the probability to be in employment. Placebo tests and robustness checks provide further support that the link is unlikely to be affected by unobserved confounders.

In the third chapter, I analyse the effect of suffering from depressive symptoms on cognitive abilities. Cognitive skills are important determinants of employment and productivity in older adults. Although cognitive decline is often linked to changes in mental health, the causal nature of the association between mental illness and cognitive performance is not established. I analyse the effect of depressive symptoms on cognitive function. Based on longitudinal data for older adults of working age, I use an instrumental variable approach to show that worsening depressive symptoms lead to a decline in cognitive skills. The economic consequences of impaired cognition caused by depressive symptoms may be a large component of mental illness’s social costs.

In the fourth chapter, I examine whether the extra income received from the UK State Pension has a causal effect on health. To isolate the effect of pension income, I focus on women who had already left the labour force before reaching their State Pension Age. I use a major pension reform to compare the mental health and well-being of women of the same age but with different pension eligibility. I find that becoming eligible to the State Pension improves the financial well-being for women of low Socio-Economic Status (SES) but not for high SES women. The extra income provided by the State Pension has a strong positive effect on a wide range of physical and mental health outcomes and well-being indicators for low SES women but not for high SES women.

Date of Award1 Aug 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAugustin De Coulon (Supervisor) & Mauricio Avendano Pabon (Supervisor)

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