Cognitive Health of Older Indians

Individual and Geographic Determinants of Female Disadvantage

by Jinkook Lee, Regina A. Shih, Kevin Carter Feeney, Kenneth M. Langa

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India is experiencing a rapid demographic and epidemiologic transition. Among a growing aging population, non-communicable diseases, including dementia, are increasingly prevalent, but our understanding of cognitive health is quite limited. Recent studies suggest that women in developed countries perform as well or better than men on cognitive functioning tests, though research from developing countries shows the opposite. This gender disparity in developing settings may be attributable to that fact that women are traditionally not given equal access to education, health services, economic opportunity, and social engagement. Furthermore, in countries such as India, discrimination against women may play a role in the gender disparity. To address this issue, the authors examine cognitive function of older Indians, using cross-sectional data from the 2010 pilot round of the Longitudinal Aging Study in India, fielded across Punjab and Rajasthan in the north and Kerala and Karnataka in the south. They found gender disparities in cognitive function and suggest that female cognitive disadvantage could be explained by disparities in education, health and social engagement in southern India. However, female disadvantage persisted in northern states where discrimination against women has been notably acute even after controlling for education and other key risk factors of poor cognitive function.

This paper series made possible by the NIA funded RAND Center for the Study of Aging and the NICHD funded RAND Population Research Center.

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