Propensity Scores in Health Disparities Research: The Example of Cognitive Aging and the Hispanic Paradox

Epidemiology. 2023 Jul 1;34(4):495-504. doi: 10.1097/EDE.0000000000001620. Epub 2023 May 30.


Background: Individuals of Mexican ancestry in the United States experience substantial socioeconomic disadvantages compared with non-Hispanic white individuals; however, some studies show these groups have similar dementia risk. Evaluating whether migration selection factors (e.g., education) associated with risk of Alzheimer disease and related dementia (ADRD) explain this paradoxical finding presents statistical challenges. Intercorrelation of risk factors, common with social determinants, could make certain covariate patterns very likely or unlikely to occur for particular groups, which complicates their comparison. Propensity score (PS) methods could be leveraged here to diagnose nonoverlap and help balance exposure groups.

Methods: We compare conventional and PS-based methods to examine differences in cognitive trajectories between foreign-born Mexican American, US-born Mexican American, and US-born non-Hispanic white individuals in the Health and Retirement Study (1994-2018). We examined cognition using a global measure. We estimated trajectories of cognitive decline from linear mixed models adjusted for migration selection factors also associated with ADRD risk conventionally or with inverse probability weighting. We also employed PS trimming and match weighting.

Results: In the full sample, where PS overlap was poor, unadjusted analyses showed both Mexican ancestry groups had worse baseline cognitive scores but similar or slower rates of decline compared with non-Hispanic white adults; adjusted findings were similar, regardless of method. Focusing analyses on populations where PS overlap was improved (PS trimming and match weighting) did not alter conclusions.

Conclusions: Attempting to equalize groups on migration selection and ADRD risk factors did not explain paradoxical findings for Mexican ancestry groups in our study.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognitive Aging*
  • Hispanic or Latino
  • Humans
  • Mexican Americans
  • Propensity Score
  • Risk Factors
  • United States / epidemiology