Why Education Has Important Implications for Cognitive Aging
Thu, April 22, 2021

Why Education Has Important Implications for Cognitive Aging


Education is a vital human right that plays an important role in human, economic, and social development. People with better education tend to have healthier lifestyles, have better opportunities to meet like-minded individuals, have access to more jobs, and have a sense of empowerment that they can choose their path and change their own life. A new study conducted by Martin Lövdén from Aging Research Center and colleagues has found that schooling is also important for cognitive health as it brings certain benefits to longevity and health.

Schooling and cognitive functioning across the life span

Their analysis, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest (PSPI) shows that an extensive formal education doesn’t lessen the rate of cognitive declines relating to aging. However, people who have gone further in school have a higher level of cognitive function in early and middle adulthood. Consequently, their cognitive aging is less obvious and the most severe impairments will manifest later than they would otherwise have.

The University of Texas, Austin’s researcher Elliot M. Tucker-Drob, who co-authored the study, said via Medical Xpress that the total amount of formal schooling people receive is linked to their average level of cognitive functioning as they reach adulthood.



Differences in rates of cognitive decline

Declines in cognitive abilities are related to impairments in older adults’ everyday functions, but everyone is different from one another in their rates of cognitive decline as they reach adulthood and old age. The authors believe that it is of great societal interest to identify factors that protect people against compromised late-life cognition.

The team suggests that prolonging education may not only affect cognitive ability but also lessen aging-related declines in cognition. To come up with these findings, they reviewed the literature on cognitive aging and educational attainment, including the recent data harmonized across multiple longitudinal cohort studies.

The relevance of the study during Covid-19 pandemic

Tucker-Drob added that their findings may be particularly important as governments decide when and how to reopen schools during a pandemic. Formal education is important for cognitive development not just throughout childhood but also adolescence and early adulthood. The governments’ decisions will impact people in many years to come.

Enhancing the conditions that shape the development of people in their first decades of life brings great potential to also improve cognitive ability. As a result, it helps reduce public health burdens that are related to dementia and cognitive aging.

Access to tertiary education today

Our World in Data shares that 34% of people worldwide within 5 years of finishing secondary education were enrolled in tertiary education. In most countries, tertiary education is at the college or university level. The region with the highest gross enrollment ratio in tertiary education in 2014, regardless of age, was North America (84.03%), followed by Europe and Central Asia (62.07%), Latin America and the Caribbean (43.3%), East Asia and Pacific (36.47%), Middle East and North Africa (36.42%), World (34.45%), South Asia (20.84%), and Sub-Saharan Africa (8.59%).

Countries with the lowest government expenditure on tertiary education in 2013 were Guatemala (0.35%), Mauritania (0.38%), Democratic Republic of Congo (0.49%), Kazakhstan (0.45%), Cambodia (0.12%), and Sri Lanka (0.34%), among others.



Correlation between longevity and years of schooling

In 2018, researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna have also compiled the average data on GDP per person, years of education, and lifespans from 174 countries, dating from 1970 to 2010. They found that just as wealth is linked with longevity, the correlation between years of schooling and longevity was closer. It even has a direct relationship that did not change over time as compared to wealth.

Author Wolfgang Lutz of the 2018 study said via New Scientist that “better education drives longer life.” Schooling likewise tends to lead to more wealth the reason why longevity and wealth are likewise correlated. What they emphasized in their study is that wealth does not appear to be driving longevity as other experts thought. Instead, education is driving both wealth and longevity.

Lutz thinks it is because education permanently enhances a person’s cognitive abilities, providing them self-control and better planning throughout the rest of their life. He, however, thinks that some medical professionals may not like their findings as these professionals may believe schools could be a better health investment than high-tech hospitals.

Personal and societal benefits of education

A well-educated society is believed to also have a higher sense of trust and unity within the community. When people in different societies are educated, they help lift the weak and create a feeling of togetherness among other parts. Educated people further tend to be more aware of current political issues, thus more likely to vote for their leaders. They are also 3.5 times more likely to donate their money compared to high school graduates and are twice as likely to volunteer.

College students are found to have a high cognitive ability because they study hard and study often, which means they are trained to solve a problem. Courses usually require presentations and group work, improving their interpersonal communication skills. Schooling moreover teaches people the difference between right and wrong, highlights the University of the People. With empathy, it lessens the tendency of people to commit crimes.



But college is not all just about studying. The friends these students make during college may also be friends for life. They can serve as a social net to lift them when they are down and will encourage them in their profession and life in general. Learning to work well and live well improves their social skills too.

In the area of personal development, students go through personal development in education too. Things like perseverance, communication, time management, and critical thinking skills are all great assets for their personal life and future work as well. After graduation, they can get ahead further in life not only because of the degree they earned but the lessons they learned towards getting their degree.

Education is indeed an important social determinant of health. Both studies mentioned herein shows how education, wealth, and health are all affecting each other.