Does Education Improve Cognitive Abilities? Evidence from the Cultural Revolution in China

Tianyuan Tang , University of Florida

The association between education and cognitive abilities has been fascinating researchers. Using the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) as a natural experiment, this study instruments education with the decisive role of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) membership in school enrollment during the turmoil period, to overcome the endogenous problem and examine the effect of education on cognitive abilities and its variation across gender. The retrospective questions in China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Survey (CHARLS) provide rich information about the historical background. The empirical results show that education has a positive effect on cognitive abilities, and women benefit more from education than men. However, in contrast to previous research, postestimation tests suggest that education may not be an endogenous variable as many think it is, at least when estimating its effect on cognitive abilities. With the assistance of CCP membership as a valid instrumental variable for education, it is demonstrated that conventional OLS can be a better estimator in this case.

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 Presented in Session 91. Influences on Cognitive Function in Later Life