School and happiness link rejected

Staying in education longer may make a person smarter, but it may not make them happier, new research suggests.

A new study has found that those teenagers who were made to stay in education until they were 15 after the leaving age rose in the 1940s had a better memory later in life.

But the extra year's schooling made little difference to their quality of life.

Academics based in Manchester and Munich compared the mental abilities of those who turned 14 before the school leaving age was raised to 15 in 1947, with those who were 14 just after the change and stayed in school for an extra year. Data was collected every two years between 2002 and 2008.

Those taking part were given a series of tests, including being asked to remember a list of words or items beginning with a certain letter, as well as being given a series of questions about their wellbeing and satisfaction with life.

The findings, published in this month's Economic Journal, show a link between staying in school longer and having a better memory and mental abilities in old age. But it found no "statistically significant" effect on wellbeing or quality of life.

The authors suggest that those who stayed in school for an additional year were more likely to have better job prospects and more mentally demanding professions which could benefit their mental abilities later on.

Study author Professor James Banks, of Manchester University and the Institute for Fiscal Studies, said: "There seems to be, even when we control for other factors, a distinct jump in the mental abilities of those who went to school for an extra year."

He said that in terms of happiness "we were asking people, how satisfied are they with their life or current circumstances?". He added: "Those questions did not demonstrate the same jump."

Professor Banks added that the findings may not necessarily be the same for today's youngsters who are asked to stay in school until they are 18 rather than 17. From next year teenagers will be asked to stay in school or training until they are 17, and in 2015, this will rise to 18.