Overeducation and depressive symptoms: diminishing mental health returns to education



In general, well-educated people enjoy better mental health than those with less education. As a result, some wonder whether there are limits to the mental health benefits of education. Inspired by the literature on the expansion of tertiary education, this article explores marginal mental health returns to education and studies the mental health status of overeducated people. To enhance the validity of the findings we use two indicators of educational attainment – years of education and ISCED97 categories – and two objective indicators of overeducation (the realised matches method and the job analyst method) in a sample of the working population of 25 European countries (unweighted sample N = 19,089). Depression is measured using an eight-item version of the CES-D scale. We find diminishing mental health returns to education. In addition, overeducated people report more depression symptoms. Both findings hold irrespective of the indicators used. The results must be interpreted in the light of the enduring expansion of education, as our findings show that the discussion of the relevance of the human capital perspective, and the diploma disease view on the relationship between education and modern society, is not obsolete.