Childhood socioeconomic disadvantage is consistently associated with lower cognitive function in later life. This study aims to distinguish the contribution of specific aspects of childhood socioeconomic disadvantage for memory performance in mid-to-late adulthood, with consideration for direct and indirect effects through education and occupation.
Data were from adults aged 50-80 years who completed the life history module in the 2006/07 wave of the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (n=4,553). The outcome, memory score, was based on word recall tests (range: 0-20 points). We used the g-formula to estimate direct and indirect effects of a composite variable for childhood socioeconomic disadvantage, and its four individual components: lower-skilled occupation of the primary breadwinner, having few books in the home, overcrowding in the home, and lack of water and heating facilities in the home.
Few books were the most consequential component of childhood socioeconomic disadvantage for later life memory (total effect: ⎼0.82 points for few books; 95% CI: ⎼1.04, ⎼0.60), with roughly half being a direct effect. The total effect of a breadwinner in lower-skilled occupations was smaller but not significantly different from few books (⎼0.67 points; 95% CI: ⎼0.88, ⎼0.46), while it was significantly smaller with overcrowding (⎼0.31 points; 95% CI: ⎼0.56, ⎼0.06). The latter two total effects were mostly mediated by education and occupation.
A literate environment in the childhood home may have lasting direct effects on memory function in mid-to-later life, while parental occupation and overcrowding appear to influence memory primarily through educational and occupational pathways.