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Sweden's Enormous Education Experiment Improved Longevity

from Nature News

Shortly after the Second World War, the Swedish government conducted a vast social experiment to decide whether to implement educational reform. An examination of data from people who took part in the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has revealed that those lucky enough to have experienced the eformed system have been more likely than their contemporaries to live a long life.

Governments across northern Europe reformed their education systems in the wake of the Second World War, searching for ways to regain economic strength. "There was an international trend inspired by the United States to go for more comprehensive schooling," says Anton Lager, a co-author of the research, who studies young people's health at the Centre for Health Equity Studies of Stockholm University. As well as starting to teach all children equally, many countries introduced longer schooling. The United Kingdom, for instance, raised the school leaving age from 14 to 15 in 1944, and to 16 in 1972.

In Sweden, the government decided to undertake a controlled study of its proposed new school system--so, from 1949 to 1962, all 1.2 million children in the Swedish state education system were set on one of two paths. In a slowly increasing proportion of the school districts across the country, it became compulsory for children to attend a comprehensive school for 9 years. The rest of Sweden provided a control group, in which children stuck to the existing system: mandatory schooling for 8 years, with the most academically gifted children remaining in school for up to 10 years.


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