Can individual conditions during childhood mediate or moderate the long-term cognitive effects of poor economic environments at birth?

Thomas Fritze*, Gabriele Doblhammer, Gerard J. van den Berg

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


Recent analyses revealed that the business cycle at the time of birth influences cognitive functioning at older ages, and that those individuals born during economic boom periods on average display better cognitive functioning later in life. The current study examines the impact of childhood conditions on late-life cognitive functioning and investigates whether they mediate or moderate the effects of the business cycle at the time of birth. The underlying purpose is to find potential starting points for societal interventions that may counterbalance the negative long-term outcomes of adverse living conditions early in life. We use data from 7935 respondents at ages 60+ in eleven European countries from the first three waves of the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe (SHARE). The survey data was collected in 2004, 2006/07, and 2008/09. Country fixed-effects models are used to examine the impact of macro-economic deviations in the year of birth and the indicators of childhood circumstances on late-life cognitive functioning. This study shows that the effects of boom and recession periods at birth are not simply mediated or moderated by living conditions during childhood. Conditions at birth have biological long-run effects on late-life cognitive functioning. Individuals born during boom periods display signs of having better cognitive functioning later in life, whereas recessions negatively influence cognition. Furthermore, a series of childhood conditions in and of themselves influence late-life cognition. Good childhood cognition, high education as well as a high social status, favourable living arrangements, and good health have a positive impact. Policy interventions should aim at a better access to school or measures to improve the economic and social situations of disadvantaged households.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)240-248
Number of pages9
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2014


  • Business cycle at birth
  • Early-life conditions
  • European countries
  • Late-life cognition
  • Mediating and moderating effects
  • Pathway


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