Income, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cognition: Evidence From Cash Transfers

Kevin Feeney , University of Southern California

I analyze the effects of a cash transfer on aging adults’ cognitive function in rural Mexico. Cognitive health is a critical concern for low/middle-income countries as they undergo rapid demographic transitions, but lack institutional support and human capital present elsewhere. Cash transfers present one potential policy lever to improve these health outcomes. Using a regression discontinuity design exploiting eligibility criteria for the program, I find evidence however that cash transfers can be detrimental to cognition. I show this is likely attributable to income effects on obesogenic foods, which increase hypertension and obesity, two important risk factors for cognitive health. The effects sizes are large, but inline with magnitudes of other socioeconomic and environmental correlates of cognitive functioning, such as retirement and pollution. The findings have important implications for public policies and are the first to document such "spillovers" across health domains from cash transfer programs among aging adults.

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 Presented in Session 14. Cognitive Aging