The Role of Early-Life Educational Quality and Literacy in Explaining Racial Disparities in Cognition in Late Life
Published in: Journal of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences, v. 70, no. 4, July 2015, p. 557-567
Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2014
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OBJECTIVES: Racial disparities in late-life cognition persist even after accounting for educational attainment. We examined whether early-life educational quality and literacy in later life help explain these disparities. METHOD: We used longitudinal data from the Washington Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project (WHICAP). Educational quality (percent white students; urban/rural school; combined grades in classroom) was operationalized using canonical correlation analysis. Late-life literacy (reading comprehension and ability, writing) was operationalized using confirmatory factor analysis. We examined whether these factors attenuated race-related differences in late-life cognition. RESULTS: The sample consisted of 1,679U.S.-born, non-Hispanic, community-living adults aged 65–102 (71% black, 29% white; 70% women). Accounting for educational quality and literacy reduced disparities by 29% for general cognitive functioning, 26% for memory, and 32% for executive functioning but did not predict differences in rate of cognitive change. DISCUSSION: Early-life educational quality and literacy in late life explain a substantial portion of race-related disparities in late-life cognitive function.