Occupational complexity and lifetime cognitive abilities

Emily L Smart, Alan J Gow, Ian J Deary

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

OBJECTIVE: To examine associations between complexity of main lifetime occupation and cognitive performance in later life.

METHODS: Occupational complexity ratings for data, people, and things were collected from the Dictionary of Occupational Titles for 1,066 individuals (men = 534, women = 532) in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936. IQ data were available from mean age 11 years. Cognitive ability data across the domains of general ability, processing speed, and memory were available at mean age 70 years.

RESULTS: General linear model analyses indicated that complexity of work with people and data were associated with better cognitive performance at age 70, after including age 11 IQ, years of education, and social deprivation.

CONCLUSIONS: The current findings are supportive of the differential preservation hypotheses that more stimulating environments preserve cognitive ability in later life, although the continued effects into old age are still debated. Studies that have early-life cognitive ability measures are rare, and the current study offers interesting prospects for future research that may further the understanding of successful aging.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2285-91
Number of pages7
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2014


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