Early Educational Experiences and Trajectories of Cognitive Functioning Among Mid-Life and Older U.S. Adults

Katrina M. Walsemann , University of South Carolina
Jennifer A. Ailshire, University of Southern California

Educational attainment is associated with better cognitive functioning among older adults, but significant variation in educational experiences exists even at equivalent levels of educational attainment. We use data from the 2015 Health and Retirement Study Life History Mail Survey (LHMS) to examine if educational content, school context, and academic ability relate to trajectories of cognitive functioning, independent of educational attainment among mid-life and older US adults. We restrict our sample to age-eligible LHMS respondents who provided data on cognitive functioning at least once between 1998 and 2014, and attended primary school or higher (n=6,056 respondents providing 38,452 person-period observations). Estimates from linear mixed models revealed that educational content, school context, and academic ability were significantly related to cognitive functioning at age 65, but not to the rate of cognitive decline, independent of educational attainment. Further, educational experiences explained about 22% of the educational gradient in cognitive functioning at age 65.

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 Presented in Session 138. Life Course, Population Health, and Mortality