Genes Related to Education Predict Frailty Among Older Adults in the United States

J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2021 Jan 1;76(1):173-183. doi: 10.1093/geronb/gbz092.


Objective: This article expands on research that links education and frailty among older adults by considering the role of genes associated with education.

Method: Data come from a sample of 7,064 non-Hispanic, white adults participating in the 2004-2012 waves of the Health and Retirement Study. Frailty was measured with two indices: (a) The Frailty Index which corresponds to a deficit accumulation model; and (b) The Paulson-Lichtenberg Frailty Index which corresponds to the biological syndrome/phenotype model. Genes associated with education were quantified using an additive polygenic score. Associations between the polygenic score and frailty indices were tested using a series of multilevel models, controlling for multiple observations for participants across waves.

Results: Results showed a strong and negative association between genes for education and frailty symptoms in later life. This association exists above and beyond years of completed education and we demonstrate that this association becomes weaker as older adults approach their 80s.

Discussion: The results contribute to the education-health literature by highlighting new and important pathways through which education might be linked to successful aging.

Keywords: Education; Functional health status; Genetics; Successful aging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / genetics*
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Frail Elderly
  • Frailty / epidemiology
  • Frailty / genetics*
  • Health Status*
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • United States / epidemiology
  • White People / statistics & numerical data