The effect of life course socioeconomic position on crystallised cognitive ability in two large UK cohort studies: a structured modelling approach
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Objectives This study systematically compared accumulation, sensitive period, critical period and social mobility models relating life course socioeconomic position (SEP) and adult crystallised cognitive ability, which has not been comprehensively investigated. Design Two prospective cohort studies. Participants Five thousand three hundred and sixty-two participants in the Medical Research Council National Survey of Health and Development (NSHD) Birth Cohort Study and 10 308 participants in the Whitehall II Occupational Cohort Study. Measures Childhood SEP was measured by father’s occupational SEP, early adulthood SEP by educational qualifications and adult SEP by own occupational SEP. Each life course model was compared with a saturated model. Results Using multiple imputation to account for missing data, the sensitive period model, which contained childhood, early adulthood and adult SEP terms, with different coefficients, provided the best fit for both men and women in the NSHD and Whitehall II cohorts. Early adulthood SEP had the largest coefficient in NSHD women, whereas for NSHD men early adulthood and adult SEP had similar coefficients. In Whitehall II adult SEP had the largest effect size for both men and women. Conclusions Sensitive period with all three time periods was the most appropriate life course models for adult crystallised cognitive ability in both cohorts, including an effect of childhood SEP. It is important to directly compare the life course models to determine which is the most appropriate.