Height, aging and cognitive abilities across Europe

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Previous research has found that as a marker of childhood circumstances, height is correlated with cognitive functioning at older ages. Using data from the Survey of Health, Ageing, and Retirement in Europe (SHARE) and about 17,000 respondents from 11 countries, we find that height is positively and significantly associated with cognitive functioning in later life despite controlling for a myriad of possible confounding factors. A 10 cm increase in height is associated with a 0.04 standard deviation increase in a summary cognitive score (mean 0.02, std. dev. 0.77). We find that being born in a country where the infant mortality rate at the time of birth is high has a negative and significant influence on cognitive functioning in later life. A 10% increase in the infant mortality rate is associated with a 0.1 standard deviation decrease in the summary cognitive score. We also find some evidence that height serves as a protective factor against age related deterioration in cognitive functioning. For persons of average stature, age related decreases in cognition scores are 3–5 percentage points smaller if they move up a quartile in the height distribution. Our results also suggest that there is a significant positive association between height and cognitive abilities across countries for this pre-1950 birth cohort of respondents, with correlations ranging from 0.4 to 0.8.

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