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New research shows link between childhood socioeconomic position and mid-life cognition partially explained by education and occupation

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New research, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, has found that there is a link between childhood socioeconomic position (SEP) and cognitive function in mid-life which acts via education and occupational attainment. Early socioeconomic advantage has a positive impact on both education and occupation, which in turn may serve as factors which benefit later cognitive function.

The project was funded by CLOSER and uses data from three British birth cohorts. The research used retrospectively harmonised measures of cognition, childhood and adult SEP, education, and early life from the 1946 MRC National Survey of Health and Development, the 1958 National Child Development Study, and the 1970 British Cohort Study. As the cognitive tests differed across studies, measurement equivalence was first established, before carrying out analyses. This is important to ensure valid comparisons between studies.

Vanessa Moulton, researcher at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies (CLS) and Principal Investigator on the project said, “By using harmonised cognitive measures across cohorts we were able to compare three generations. The findings were similar; we found indirect associations between SEP and mid-life cognitive function in all three cohorts, after controlling for cognition in childhood.”

While previous research suggested that childhood SEP was robustly associated with cognitive function later in life, the question of whether disadvantaged childhood SEP resulted in lower levels of cognitive function in adulthood through potentially modifiable mediating variables had remained unclear. This study extends the understanding of the specific pathways between childhood SEP and mid-life cognitive function.

Eoin McElroy, lead analyst said, “Our findings demonstrate how cross-cohort studies can help disentangle the effects of modifiable and non-modifiable factors on important aspects of health, such as mid-life cognitive function.”

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