Individuals increasingly experience delays or interruptions in schooling; we evaluate the association between these non-traditional education trajectories and mental health.
Using year-by-year education data for 7,501 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1979 participants, ages 14-48 (262,535 person-years of education data), we applied sequence analysis and a clustering algorithm to identify educational trajectory groups, incorporating both type and timing to credential. Linear regression models, adjusted for early-life confounders, evaluated relationships between educational trajectories and mental health component scores (MCS) from the 12-item short form instrument at age 50. We evaluated effect modification by race, gender, and race by gender.
We identified 24 distinct educational trajectories based on highest credential and educational timing. Compared to high school (HS) diplomas, < HS (beta=-3.41, 95%CI:-4.74,-2.07) and general educational development credentials (GEDs) predicted poorer MCS (beta=-2.07,95%CI:-3.16,-0.98). The following educational trajectories predicted better MCS: some college immediately after High School (beta=1.52, 95%CI:0.68,2.37), Associate degrees after long interruptions (beta=1.73, 95%CI:0.27,3.19), and graduate school soon after Bachelor’s completion (beta=1.13, 95%CI:0.21,2.06). Compared to White men, Black women especially benefited from educational credentials higher than HS in predicting MCS.
Both type and timing of educational credential predicted mental health. Black women’s mental higher especially benefited from higher educational credentials.