Although the association between childhood socioeconomic status (SES) and late-life cognition is well-established, the mechanisms underlying this association are less clear. One important potential mediator seldom examined is adolescent cognitive ability. To address this gap, we examined 5,880 respondents from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which follows a random sample of high school students who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957. Structural equation models were used to examine the direct and indirect effects of childhood SES on cognition in late midlife through adolescent cognitive ability, educational attainment, midlife economic condition, and midlife health. Cognitive function was measured as a latent variable composed of scores from 6 cognitive assessments including immediate and delayed recall, digit ordering, letter and category fluency, and a subset of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale similarities test. We found that childhood SES predicts cognition in late midlife, and this association is largely mediated by adolescent cognitive ability and educational attainment and to a lesser extent by midlife economic condition and health. The findings underscore the long-arm of childhood SES in cognitive function in later life and highlight the complex life-course pathways underlying the association between childhood SES and cognition.
- Adolescent cognitive ability
- Childhood socioeconomic status
- Cognitive function
- Midlife economic condition
- Wisconsin longitudinal study