Does college major matter for women's and men's health in midlife? Examining the horizontal dimensions of educational attainment

Jennifer Karas Montez, Wencheng Zhang, Anna Zajacova, Tod G. Hamilton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


Studies on how education shapes adult health have largely conceptualized education as the quantity of schooling attained, coined the “vertical dimension” of education. While this dimension is important, heterogeneity within levels of education (the “horizontal dimension”) may also shape health. Using data from the 2010–2014 American Community Survey on adults aged 45–64 with a Bachelor's degree (N = 667,362), we investigate the association between a key indicator of adult health (physical functioning) and an understudied horizontal dimension of education (college major). We find that physical functioning in midlife varies significantly by college major. For instance, the odds of poor functioning for men who majored in Psychology/Social Work were 1.9 (95% CI: 1.7, 2.1) times greater than for men who majored in Business. However, all college graduates, regardless of major, report better functioning than non-graduates. We also find that inequalities in midlife functioning across majors largely reflect differences in human capital skills and financial returns in the labor market. Taken together our findings suggest that college major is an important component of health stratification and should be integrated into the literature on health inequalities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)130-138
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018



  • Disability
  • Education
  • Health
  • Social determinants
  • United States

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science

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