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Do economic recessions during early and mid-adulthood influence cognitive function in older age?

23 Dec 2013


Fluctuations in the national economy shape labour market opportunities and outcomes, which in turn may influence the accumulation of cognitive reserve. This study examines whether economic recessions experienced in early and mid-adulthood are associated with later-life cognitive function.


Data came from 12 020 respondents in 11 countries participating in the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). Cognitive assessments in 2004/2005 and 2006/2007 were linked to complete work histories retrospectively collected in 2008/2009 and to historical annual data on fluctuations in Gross Domestic Product per capita for each country. Controlling for confounders, we assessed whether recessions experienced at ages 25–34, 35–44 and 45–49 were associated with cognitive function at ages 50–74.


Among men, each additional recession at ages 45–49 was associated with worse cognitive function at ages 50–74 (b=–0.06, CI –0.11 to –0.01). Among women, each additional recession at ages 25–44 was associated with worse cognitive function at ages 50–74 (b25–34=–0.03, CI –0.04 to –0.01; b35–44=–0.02, CI –0.04 to –0.00). Among men, recessions at ages 45–49 influenced risk of being laid-off, whereas among women, recessions at ages 25–44 led to working part-time and higher likelihood of downward occupational mobility, which were all predictors of worse later-life cognitive function.


Recessions at ages 45–49 among men and 25–44 among women are associated with later-life cognitive function, possibly through more unfavourable labour market trajectories. If replicated in future studies, findings indicate that policies that ameliorate the impact of recessions on labour market outcomes may promote later-life cognitive function.

23 December 2013

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