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Effects of early-life environment and adulthood SES on cognitive change in a multiethnic cohort

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  07 March 2023

Oanh L. Meyer*
Department of Neurology, University of California, Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento, CA, USA
Amal Harrati
Mathematica, Oakland, CA, USA
Brandon E. Gavett
School of Psychological Science, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA, Australia
Sarah T. Farias
Department of Neurology, University of California, Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento, CA, USA
Rachel A. Whitmer
Department of Public Health Sciences, University of California, Davis, CA, USA
Keith Widaman
School of Education, University of California, Riverside, CA, USA
Victoria Hoang
Department of Neurology, University of California, Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento, CA, USA
Michele Tobias
UC Davis DataLab, University of California, Davis, CA, USA
Dan Mungas
Department of Neurology, University of California, Davis School of Medicine, Sacramento, CA, USA
Corresponding author: Oanh L. Meyer, email:



Early-life socioeconomic status (SES) and adversity are associated with late-life cognition and risk of dementia. We examined the association between early-life SES and adversity and late-life cross-sectional cognitive outcomes as well as global cognitive decline, hypothesizing that adulthood SES would mediate these associations.


Our sample (N = 837) was a racially and ethnically diverse cohort of non-Hispanic/Latino White (48%), Black (27%), and Hispanic/Latino (19%) participants from Northern California. Participant addresses were geocoded to the level of the census tract, and US Census Tract 2010 variables (e.g., percent with high school diploma) were extracted and combined to create a neighborhood SES composite. We used multilevel latent variable models to estimate early-life (e.g., parental education, whether participant ever went hungry) and adult (participant’s education, main occupation) SES factors and their associations with cross-sectional and longitudinal cognitive outcomes of episodic memory, semantic memory, executive function, and spatial ability.


Child and adult factors were strongly related to domain-specific cognitive intercepts (0.20–0.48 SD per SD of SES factor); in contrast, SES factors were not related to global cognitive change (0.001–0.01 SD per year per SD of SES factor). Adulthood SES mediated a large percentage (68–75%) of the total early-life effect on cognition.


Early-life sociocontextual factors are more strongly associated with cross-sectional late-life cognitive performance compared to cognitive change; this effect is largely mediated through associations with adulthood SES.

Research Article
Copyright © INS. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2023

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