Does Starting School Early affect Cognitive Health in the Old Age? Quasi-Experimental Evidence from Germany

Martin Fischer (University of Duisburg-Essen; RGS Econ)


This study uses the German 1970 Census and administrative health insurance data to evaluatethe very long run-effects of a historical school starting age regulation in Germany on educational attainment and cognitive disease risk. From 1922 onwards children in northern parts of Germany had to start primary school the current year in case they turned 6 before the 30th of June, creating a discontinuity in school starting age. Starting school one year later lead to significant increase in educational attainment and income. Likely explanations for a persistent effect till adulthood are a highly selective and inflexible school system, the lack of proper school entrance examinations. Effects were potentially manifested or even exaggerated by World War II. However, I cannot detect effects on the risk of getting diagnosed with dementia for individuals 75+. Instead a later school starting age is associated with a significant reduction in overall mortality, potentially driven by the persistent effects of school starting age on educational attainment and associated socio-demographics.