Educational gradients in health status, morbidity, and mortality are well established, but which aspects of schooling produce those gradients is only partially understood. We draw on newly available data from the midlife follow-up of the High School and Beyond sophomore cohort to analyze the relationship between students' level of coursework in high school and their long-term health outcomes. We additionally evaluate the mediating roles of skill development, postsecondary attendance and degree attainment, and occupational characteristics. We find that students who took a medium- to high-level course of study in high school have better self-reported health and physical functioning in midlife, even net of family background, adolescent health, baseline skills, and school characteristics. The association partially operates through pathways into postsecondary education. Our findings have implications for both educational policy and research on the educational gradient in health.
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The authors would like to thank Tetyana Pudrovska, Julie Posselt, Anna Zajacova, Debra Umberson and the graduate students in her writing course, and the anonymous reviewers of Social Forces for providing feedback and suggestions on early drafts of this manuscript. This material is based upon work supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation under grant number 2012-10-27, the National Science Foundation under grant numbers HRD 1348527 and HRD 1348557, and the Institute for Education Sciences of the US Department of Education under grant number R305U140001. This research was also supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development under grant numbers 5 R24 HD042849 and 5 T32 HD007081 (Training Program in Population Studies). Note that this manuscript has been subject to disclosure review and has been approved by the US Department of Education’s Institute for Education Sciences in line with the terms of the HS&B restricted use data agreement. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. Direct correspondence to Jamie M. Carroll, 305 E. 23rd Street, G1800, Austin, TX 78701; e-mail: email@example.com.