The role of early-life educational quality and literacy in explaining racial disparities in cognition in late life

Shannon Sisco, Alden L Gross, Regina A. Shih, Bonnie C. Sachs, M. Maria Glymour, Katherine J. Bangen, Andreana Benitez, Jeannine Skinner, Brooke C. Schneider, Jennifer J. Manly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Objectives. Racial disparities in late-life cognition persist even after accounting for educational attainment. We examined whether early-life educational quality and literacy in later life help explain these disparities. Method. We used longitudinal data from the Washington Heights-Inwood Columbia Aging Project (WHICAP). Educational quality (percent white students; urban/rural school; combined grades in classroom) was operationalized using canonical correlation analysis. Late-life literacy (reading comprehension and ability, writing) was operationalized using confirmatory factor analysis. We examined whether these factors attenuated race-related differences in late-life cognition. Results. The sample consisted of 1,679U.S.-born, non-Hispanic, community-living adults aged 65-102 (71% black, 29% white; 70% women). Accounting for educational quality and literacy reduced disparities by 29% for general cognitive functioning, 26% for memory, and 32% for executive functioning but did not predict differences in rate of cognitive change. Discussion. Early-life educational quality and literacy in late life explain a substantial portion of race-related disparities in late-life cognitive function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)557-567
Number of pages11
JournalJournals of Gerontology - Series B Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 1 2015



  • Cognition
  • Life events and contexts
  • Minority and diverse populations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Gerontology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Psychology

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