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Effects of race and socioeconomic status on the relative influence of education and literacy on cognitive functioning



Previous research has shown that reading ability is a stronger predictor of cognitive functioning than years of education, particularly for African Americans. The current study was designed to determine whether the relative influence of literacy and education on cognitive abilities varies as a function of race or socioeconomic status (SES). We examined the unique influence of education and reading scores on a range of cognitive tests in low- and higher-SES African Americans and Whites. Literacy significantly predicted scores on all but one cognitive measure in both African American groups and low-SES Whites, while education was not significantly associated with any cognitive measure. In contrast, both education and reading scores predicted performance on many cognitive measures in higher-SES Whites. These findings provide further evidence that reading ability better predicts cognitive functioning than years of education and suggest that disadvantages associated with racial minority status and low SES affect the relative influence of literacy and years of education on cognition. (JINS, 2009, 15, 580–589.)


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*Correspondence and reprint requests to: Vonetta M. Dotson, Biomedical Research Center, Intramural Research Program, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health, 251 Bayview Boulevard, Suite 100, Room #04B316, Baltimore, Maryland 21224. E-mail:


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