Postponing the separation of students into different academic and vocational abilities can have implications for mental health. This is according to a recent study of a Finnish school reform in the 1970s, which delayed the separation, or tracking, of students with differing academic and vocational abilities, from age 11 to age 16. It found that the reform worsened mental health for some groups.

The study by Petri Böckerman, Mika Haapanen, Christopher Jepsen, and Alexandra Roulet is being presented at the Royal Economic Society Annual Conference in April 2019.

They find that following the reform, women from highly educated families were more likely to be hospitalised for depression. In comparison, men from low-educated families were more likely to be hospitalised for substance abuse or addiction.

As a result of delaying tracking, for women in the study, the probability of severe mental health disorders increased by 1%. This effect is large given that the probability of mental health disorders from women from highly educated families is 5%.

For men coming from low-educated families there was a 0.7% higher probability of severe mental health disorders that result in hospitalisation. This represents a 7% increase relative to a mean outcome of 11%.

The study gives some possible answers as to why this might be the case, including that for women their peers may have an effect, while low performing male students may have been discouraged.

The Finnish comprehensive school reform was implemented gradually across Finnish municipalities between 1972 and 1977. It postponed the tracking of students into vocational and academic schools from age 11 to age 16 without affecting the length of compulsory education. After the reform, students aged 11 to 16 have a common set of peers rather than peers from their specific track only.

In this study, the authors use exceptionally rich administrative panel data for the Finnish population born in the 1960s. They have access to complete registers on all-cause mortality, suicides, and hospitalisations from the late 1960s to 2013. The registers include all hospital admissions related to mental health disorders in Finland.

Contact for more information:

Mika Haapanen, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, mika.p.haapanen@jyu.fi, +358414646375, Twitter: @HaapanenMika

Petri Böckerman, University of Jyväskylä, Finland, petri.bockerman@labour.fi, +358400913189, Twitter: @pbockerman

Other authors:

Christopher Jepsen, University College Dublin

Alexandra Roulet, INSEAD