I investigate the well-known educational gradient in smoking. It is well established that, at least in recent decades, people with higher levels of education are less likely to smoke and, conditional on being a smoker, are more likely to quit than are people with less education. Using longitudinal data on lifetime smoking histories, I explore whether the educational gradient changes when one accounts for differences in the amount of information smokers have about the health risks associated with smoking. At the core of the analysis is a new way to measure not only the flow of information a person receives but also a person’s stock of information in any year. I construct measures of the stock and flow of information with consumer magazine articles that discuss cigarette smoking and health. To calculate exposure, I predict individuals’ reading of particular magazines and link predicted exposure to data on individual smoking status in every year of life. The analysis sample includes many individuals who started smoking in the 1930s and 1940s – well before scientific evidence had accumulated. After replicating the education gradient in terms of smoking cessation, I show that it is mostly explained by the interaction between educational attainment and the stock of knowledge individuals possess. The findings suggest that education affects whether and how a stock of health risk information induces people to quit smoking.
I gratefully acknowledge funding from the National Institute on Aging project “Cross-national patterns and predictors of life-cycle smoking behavior” (award 1 R01 AG030379-01A2). I thank the many research assistants who helped me gather data: Eamon Molloy, Anthony Zhu, Yelena Reznikova, Jeffrey Han, Ashley Tse, Hannah Clark, Jeongmin Shin, Raj Kannapan, Karen Calabrese, Joshua Kim, and Robert McBride at Cornell University and Temur Akhmedov, Antonio Armas, Han Cao, Jessica Coleman, Daniel Cull, Jacob Fahringer, Christopher Gaier, Thomas Gegick, Andi Hila, Tyler Hilston, Mason Kaniewski, Cormac Kelly, Luke Kirrane, Wen Liu, Srikar Mylavarapu, Jonathan Parrish, Maxwell Qian, Jenna Rizzen, and Shuting Zhao at Ohio State University. I also thank Tor Iverson and participants of the Human Capital and Health Behaviour Symposium at the University of Gothenburg for helpful comments.
Lillard, D.R. (2017), "Educational Heterogeneity in the Association between Smoking Cessation and Health Information", Human Capital and Health Behavior (Advances in Health Economics and Health Services Research, Vol. 25), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 183-206. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0731-219920170000025006
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