Social Relationships in Early Life and Episodic Memory in Mid- And Late Life

Zhenmei Zhang, Hongwei Xu, Lydia W. Li, Jinyu Liu, Seung Won Emily Choi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objectives: This study examines the longitudinal relationships between retrospective reports of early-life social relationships (i.e., having good friends, parent-child relationship quality, and childhood neighborhood social cohesion) and episodic memory in China. Methods: We analyzed 2 waves of data (2011 and 2015) from the China Health and Retirement Longitudinal Study. The analytical sample included 9,285 respondents aged 45 and older at baseline. A lagged dependent variable approach was used to estimate the associations between measures of early-life social relationships and episodic memory change at the study's 4-year follow-up. Results: Retrospective reports of better early-life social relationships are significantly associated with higher levels of episodic memory performance in 2015 among middle-aged and older Chinese, controlling for episodic memory in 2011, childhood socioeconomic status, adulthood sociodemographic variables, and the history of stroke. Educational attainment accounts for a significant portion of the associations between early-life social relationships and episodic memory. In contrast, mental health and social engagement in adulthood account for a small part of these associations. Discussion: The findings suggest that positive early-life social relationships are beneficial for episodic memory in mid- and late life, and more research is needed to examine the underlying mechanisms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2121-2130
Number of pages10
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number10
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • Childhood
  • China
  • Cognition
  • Friends
  • Parent-child relationship


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