Social Returns: Assessing the benefits of higher education

Written by Lindsay DeClou, Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario

While discussions on the value of education often focus on economic gains, the social returns to education are vast and can be reaped at both the individual level (e.g., better health) and societal level (e.g., lower crime rates).

Based on a combination of new and existing analyses, this paper explores the individual benefits and disadvantages associated with education, focusing on civic engagement; health/happiness; crime; and welfare/unemployment. The findings clearly suggest that investing in education has both individual and social benefits. While no causal link can be made between level of education and the returns examined, it is evident that those with some form of postsecondary education (PSE) often fare better than those with no more than a high school education.

For example, in terms of civic engagement, university graduates are more likely than high school graduates to volunteer and donate money. Higher levels of education also increase the likelihood of voting and other forms of political participation. In terms of health and happiness, university graduates tend to rate their physical and mental health higher than those with fewer years of education and are also less likely to smoke. Finally, happiness and life satisfaction also tend to increase with education.

Educated individuals are less likely to be incarcerated, most notably when comparing high school graduates with those who did not graduate. With that said, certain types of crime are more prevalent among certain populations and individuals with higher levels of education are more likely to commit white collar crimes. Finally, those with more education have lower unemployment rates and fared better during the most recent economic recession. They were less likely to require social assistance and had shorter welfare spells, especially for women.

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DeClou, L. (201 4 ). Social Returns: Assessing the benefits of higher education. Toronto: Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.

Posted 16 April 2014 By ncsehe