Good Citizens Don’t Confuse Correlation with Causation

May 14, 2012 article in USA Today presents the findings of the Centers for Disease Control’s study which shows that people with college degrees live longer and are less obese than those with only a high school degree.  The implication is that a college degree will lead to happier, healthier and longer lives.  Anybody in their right mind knows that most people who graduate college are in the middle to upper classes and are more likely to live that way than those in the lower classes.  But that is because college and these good outcomes are correlated.  We have no evidence that college causes a better life.
The problem is that USA Today and almost all pundits, politicians and journalists slip from correlation to causation much too easily.  The first sentence of the USA Today article reads “education may not only improve a person’s finances, it is also linked to better health habits and a longer life.”  This is a causative statement. There is no empirical evidence establishing causation.   Good citizens need to think straight and watch out for this intellectual sloppiness.  If they don’t, they will support bad ideas such as “college for all.”