Columbia Study Links Persistent Low Wages To Memory Decline

A new study finds evidence that sustained exposure to low wages during midlife is associated with accelerated cognitive decline later in life.

A new study finds evidence that sustained exposure to low wages during midlife is associated with faster cognitive decline later.

The findings from the study, by the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, are published in the American Journal of Epidemiology and were reported today at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2022 Promoting Diverse Perspectives: Addressing Health Disparities Related to Alzheimer’s and All Dementias.

The study used records from the national Health and Retirement Study of adults for the years 1992-2016. The Columbia researchers analyzed data of 2,879 individuals born between 1936 and 1941. In 1992, all those individuals were between 50 and 57 years old. The study examined whether cumulative exposure to low wages over 12 years in midlife is associated with memory decline in later life.

“Low-wage jobs have been previously associated with health outcomes such as depressive symptoms, obesity, and hypertension, which are risk factors for cognitive aging,” the study said. “However, no prior studies have examined the specific relationship between low wages during working years and later-life cognitive functioning.”

Low-wage was defined as an hourly wage lower than two-thirds of the federal median wage for the corresponding year.

The researchers found that the level of cognitive aging experienced over a 10-year period by sustained low-wage earners would be what those who never earned low wages experienced in 11 years.

The study’s authors are Katrina L. Kezios, PhD; Adina Zhang, MS; Soohyun Kim, PhD; Peiyi Lu, PhD; M. Maria Glymour, PhD; Tali Elfassy, PhD; and Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri, PhD.

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