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Work Package 5


Factors associated with cognitive ability and dementia include gender, education, socioeconomic status, age and smoking. We will look at whether social interaction is also a factor.

Social participation model

The findings from this workpackage suggest that the social activities of individuals and their social networks help to maintain steady levels of cognition, in addition to their education.


Researchers from the University of Southampton (Jitka Pikhartova and Ann Bowling) investigated a hypothesis drawn from the literature that the following factors might be associated with cognition at 50 years old: health behaviours, social support and social net in adolescence, and socio-economic characteristics during childhood and adulthood.


The team used data from the National Child Development Study (NCDS). This is a longitudinal data set which follows the lives of 17,000 adults born in a single week in 1958. The associations between the possible risk factors and cognition at age of 50 were analysed using linear regression for multivariable analysis.


Positive associations with cognition were found with participation in civic activities at the age of 33 and 50, frequent participation in sporting activities at age 42, highest achieved qualification, and being female. On the other hand, having a manually working father at age of 11 and having at least 2 family members to whom respondents could turn for advice at the age of 33 were negatively associated with cognitive outcomes.


Researchers from the LSE (Sanna Read and Emily Grundy) also investigated the association between fertility history (number of children and timing of childbirths) and cognition in older people. They used data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing, a sample of 11,233 men and women aged 50+. The data were collected over a 10-year period and made it possible to follow-up changes in cognition. Models were adjusted for age, socioeconomic position, health, depressive symptoms, control, social contacts, activities, and isolation.


The results suggested that the adverse effects of high parity (3+ children) and to some extent early age at first childbirth (< 20 for women and < 23 for men) and low parity (0 - 1 child) on cognition reflect underlying socioeconomic and health disparities. The poorer initial cognitive functioning of childless people and decline in cognitive functioning among childless women and, on the other hand, better cognition of women having children later (> age 35) suggests that there may be aspects of rearing children that are beneficial for cognitive function. Given changes in fertility patterns, including increasing rates of childlessness, more research is needed on this topic.



Bowling A, Pikhartova J, Dodgeon B (2016) Is mid-life social participation associated with cognitive function at age 50? Results from the British National Child Development Study (NCDS)BMC Psychology, 4, 1, 58.

Read S, Grundy E (2016) Fertility history and cognition in later life, Journal of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.

Ann Bowling, Emily Grundy

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