were reported at the 2022 Alzheimer’s Association International Conference® (AAIC®) 2022.
“Our research provides new evidence that sustained exposure to low wages during peak earning years is associated with accelerated memory decline later in life,” said Katrina Kezios, Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and first author.
Low-Wage Workers May Experience Faster Decline In Memory
Research into the effects of lower income on health is rapidly expanding. Using records from the national Health and Retirement Study (HRS) of adults for the years 1992-2016, the researchers analyzed data from 2,879 individuals born between 1936 and 1941.
Low-wage was defined as an hourly wage lower than two-thirds of the federal median wage for the corresponding year. Researchers categorized study participants’ history of low wages into those who never earned low wages, intermittently earned low wages, or always earned low wages based on wages earned from 1992 to 2004 and then examined the relationship with memory decline over the next 12 years from 2004-2016.
They found that, compared with workers never earning low wages, sustained low-wage earners experienced significantly faster memory decline in older age. They experienced approximately one excess year of cognitive aging per 10 years.
While economic growth has increased since then, wage and salary growth for employees – particularly those in low-wage jobs – has slowed over time, and the minimum wage has not kept up with inflation.
These findings suggest that social policies that enhance the financial well-being of low-wage workers may be especially beneficial for cognitive health.
Future work should rigorously examine the number of dementia cases and excess years of cognitive aging that could be prevented under different hypothetical scenarios that would increase the minimum hourly wage.