|Title||Early Educational Experiences and Trajectories of Cognitive Functioning Among Mid-Life and Older U.S. Adults|
|Publication Type||Journal Article|
|Year of Publication||2020|
|Authors||Walsemann, KM, Ailshire, JA|
|Journal||American Journal of Epidemiology|
Educational attainment is often considered the most important protective factor against cognitive impairment and dementia, yet significant variation in early educational experiences exists among mid-life and older U.S. adults. We use prospective data from the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) along with information on respondents’ early educational experiences collected in the 2015 and 2017 HRS Life History Mail Survey (HRS-LHMS) to examine if school context, educational content, and academic ability are associated with trajectories of cognitive functioning and whether educational attainment explains this relationship. We restrict our sample to age-eligible HRS-LHMS respondents who provided data on cognitive functioning at least once from 1998 to 2014, and attended primary school or higher (n=9,565 respondents providing 62,037 person-period observations). Estimates from linear mixed models revealed that school context, educational content, and academic ability were significantly associated with level of cognitive functioning, but not to rate of cognitive decline. Educational attainment explained from 9\% to 55\% of the association between these early educational experiences and level of cognitive functioning; however, all relationships remained statistically significant. Our results suggest that educational experiences that span childhood and adolescence are independently related to level of cognitive functioning decades later.