A global comparison of the relation between older adults’ education and cognitive functioning

Daniela Weber, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

Population aging is associated with age-related cognitive decline. While education is positively associated with cognitive function, it may represent a potential mechanism through which the burden of low cognition at older ages could be reduced. Recent studies using IV-techniques, MRI scans and twin study comparisons have suggested that the relation is partly causal and not only a matter of selection into education. Earlier investigations have, however, been constrained by being based on regional, national or small-scale surveys. Here we are able to analyze the relation between cognitive functioning and education using standardized cognitive measures of a slight majority of the world’s population aged 50+ due to nationally representative surveys. Studying those born between 1925 and 1964 across Africa, Asia, Europe, and the US, we find that a positive education-cognition relation holds for all countries, in spite of having highly different characteristics with respect to cognitive health, demography and the level of economic development. We study the association between education and cognition across countries that are poorer and richer and also analyze age and sex differentials across these countries. Furthermore, we investigate whether the education-cognition association holds for countries with different levels of educational distribution.

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Presented in Session 45: Quality of life and schooling