Education is negatively associated with most major causes of death. Prior work ignores the premise that cause-specific hazards are interdependent and that both education and mortality depend on cognitive ability. We analyse Swedish men aged 18–63, focusing on months lost due to specific causes—which solves the interdependence problem—and use a structural model that accounts for confounding due to cognitive ability. In a standard Cox model controlling for Intelligence Quotient, improving education is associated with large decreases in mortality for major causes of death. In the structural model, improving education is associated with a small decrease in months lost for most causes and education levels. Among the least educated, however, improving education strongly reduces the months lost, mainly those lost from external causes, such as accidents and suicide. Results suggest that conventional analysis of education and mortality may be biased, even if accounting for observed cognition.