Studies of historical and societal influences on cognitive aging generally document that later-born cohorts outperform earlier-born cohorts on tests of fluid cognitive performance. It is often noted how advances in educational attainment in childhood and adolescence may contribute to these historical improvements in cognitive aging. Less is known about the role of work environment in adulthood. Over the last century, work demands and characteristics have been changing profoundly, particularly with shifts from a manufacturing to a service and technical economy. In this article, we used data from the Seattle Longitudinal Study to compare age-related trajectories of cognitive change in five primary mental abilities between earlier-born (1901-1938) and later-born cohorts (1939-1966). Cohorts were matched on an observation-by-observation basis using age and retest, and analyses controlled for participants' gender and number of data points provided. We found that (a) later-born cohorts had higher levels of performance on most cognitive tasks and exhibited less age-related declines in word fluency; (b) later-born cohorts had more enriched perceived work environments, as indicated by higher levels of worker control and innovation, with no cohort differences in work autonomy; (c) these experiences were associated with higher levels of cognitive performance at age 55 years; (d) the effects of perceived work environment were independent of education; and (e) the effects of perceived work environment were consistent across cohorts. The findings suggest that perceived work environment is associated with cognitive functioning independently of education and invariably across historical time. We discuss potential mechanisms underlying these associations.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Social Psychology
- Geriatrics and Gerontology