Race, Childhood Structural Factors, and Cognitive Function in Later Life

Haena Lee , University of Michigan
Shannon Ang, University of Michigan
Xinyu Zhang, University of Michigan

We investigate how social experiences at school and community during childhood shape cognitive health over the life course with focus on racial differences. Data are drawn from the Health and Retirement Study (2006-2016) merged with information on place of residences and schools during childhood. School racial context (attending racially diverse vs. homogeneous schools) and sense of belonging to community are assessed to reflect childhood structural factors. Using growth curve models, we find that Blacks have lower levels of cognitive function than Whites in later life. The racial gap is partially explained by childhood structural factors. Attending racially diverse schools most of the time in childhood is associated with higher levels of cognitive function in later life net of adult experiences. This suggests that exposure to diverse social settings may serve as mental stimuli, promote social inclusion, and diversify social interaction, benefiting cognitive outcomes over time.

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 Presented in Session 6. Health & Mortality & Aging