Socioeconomic Disadvantage and Cognitive Function across the Life Span: Trends and Underlying Mechanisms Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 19, 2019
  • Schorpp, Kristen
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Sociology
  • During the past several decades, the United States has seen rising socioeconomic inequality coupled with an aging population and rising morbidity. Given these trends, a better understanding of how socioeconomic inequalities contribute to health among older adults is needed. Cognitive function, defined by the ability to learn, recall, and manipulate knowledge, is especially important for individual health, wellbeing, and independence in late life. However, the life course links between socioeconomic conditions and cognitive outcomes remain poorly understood for several reasons. First, the aging literature typically focuses on the links between adult socioeconomic conditions and late life cognitive function; however, the experience of socioeconomic disadvantage in early life may be especially detrimental to cognitive aging by setting individuals on social, psychological, and physiological trajectories that influence the aging process. Second, the links between socioeconomic status and cognitive function are not necessarily direct, but may be conditioned by broader social and economic contexts, as well as individual differences that shape responses to the experience of disadvantage. To fill these research gaps, my dissertation utilizes three national, longitudinal data sources that capture adolescence and young, mid, and late adulthood to identify the associations of life course socioeconomic disadvantage with cognitive function across the life course. In addition, I examine historical, contextual, and individual factors that modify the links between socioeconomic conditions and cognition. Chapter two tests the interactive associations of household, school, and neighborhood socioeconomic conditions for young adult memory function. Chapter three tests the moderating effect of personality on the association of childhood socioeconomic disadvantage with midlife cognitive function. Finally, chapter four examines cohort differences in the links between life course socioeconomic disadvantage and cognitive function and decline. Collectively, these examinations find that socioeconomic conditions across childhood, adolescence, and adulthood are significantly associated with adult cognitive outcomes, and that contextual, historical, and individual factors modify these links.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Mullan Harris, Kathleen Mullan
  • Yang, Claire
  • Elder, Glen H.
  • Shanahan, Michael
  • Shanahan, Lilly
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Graduate School
Graduation year
  • 2017

This work has no parents.