Socioeconomic Status Across the Life Course and Cognitive Function Among Older Adults: An Examination of the Latency, Pathways, and Accumulation Hypotheses

J Aging Health. 2016 Feb;28(1):40-67. doi: 10.1177/0898264315585504. Epub 2015 May 24.


Objective: This study investigated the relationship between life course socioeconomic status (SES) and cognitive function among older adults in the United States over a 12-year observation period. The mediation of adult SES on the association between childhood SES and cognition was examined, along with the relationship between cumulative SES and cognition.

Method: Using a nationally representative sample from the Health and Retirement Study, cognitive status and change in cognition from 1998 to 2010 were examined using growth curve models.

Results: The results showed that cognitive function varied within-persons and between-persons. SES disadvantage in childhood was associated with lower cognitive function at baseline. Adult SES mediated the relationship between childhood SES and cognitive function. Persons with higher cumulative SES demonstrated an advantage in cognitive function.

Discussion: Childhood SES and adult SES both had relationships with cognitive status and, to a lesser degree, change in cognition in later life.

Keywords: Health and Retirement Study; childhood SES; cognitive function; life course.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cognition Disorders
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Social Class*