Working Paper

Schooling and Self-Control

Published: 2024

Researchers have repeatedly demonstrated the importance of self-control for people’s life outcomes. Those with more self-control have healthier lifestyles, higher educational attainment, more labor market success, enhanced financial well-being, and higher levels of life satisfaction. While the positive association between self-control and many favorable outcomes is well-established, the direction of causality is unclear. We do not fully understand whether self-control is a cause or a consequence of people’s life success.

We make a contribution to resolving this issue by exploiting a series of Australian and German educational reforms that increased minimum education requirements as a source of exogenous variation in education levels. Instrumental variables estimates suggest that, for people affected by the reforms, an additional year of schooling has no effect on self-control.

Our take-away is that, while enhancing self-control through school-based interventions is feasible, long-term success is likely to rely on specifically tailored curricula and pedagogical choices. Simply increasing the length of time students are required to spend in formal education does not seem to be enough to increase the capacity for self-control.


Cobb-Clark, D. A., Dahmann, S. C., Kamhöfer, D. A., & Schildberg-Hörisch, H. (2024). ‘Schooling and Self-Control’, Life Course Centre Working Paper Series, 2024-06. Institute for Social Science Research, The University of Queensland. DOI: 10.14264/6559cd0