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Race, Childhood Socioeconomic Status, and Region of Childhood Residence as Intersectional Life-Course Predictors of Cognitive Aging in the United States.


Background and objectives

Race, childhood socioeconomic status (cSES), and region of childhood residence are each associated with later-life cognition, but no studies have examined how the confluence of these factors influences later-life cognitive performance. Guided by intersectionality theory, we examined individuals' social positionality across these dimensions as a predictor of cognitive performance in later life among non-Hispanic White (NHW) and non-Hispanic Black (NHB) older adults.

Research design and methods

We used data from the 2010-2016 waves of the Health and Retirement Study with participants aged 65 and older in 2010. We employed growth curve modeling to estimate associations among race, cSES, and region of childhood residence, as well as their interactions, and cognitive performance at baseline and over time.


Identifying as NHB, residing in the South, and having lower cSES each were associated with poorer later-life cognition at baseline. Childhood residence in the South was an especially strong risk factor for poorer cognition among NHBs. Among NHWs, higher cSES was associated with better baseline cognitive performance, especially among those from the South. NHBs from the South demonstrated a small advantage of higher cSES, but regardless of cSES, NHBs from the South had lower levels of baseline cognitive scores compared to all other subgroups. We observed steeper declines in cognitive performance over the 6-year study period among participants who lived in the South as children.

Discussion and implications

Our findings suggest that intersectional social positions across race, cSES, and region of childhood residence primarily influence baseline cognition in later life. Results implicate the importance of attention to multiple life-course social positions in the context of racism within social policies and other initiatives to promote equity in later-life brain health.

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