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The population of individuals with cognitive impairment and dementia is growing rapidly, necessitating etiological investigation. It is clear that individual differences in cognition later in life have both genetic and multi-level environmental correlates. Despite significant recent progress in cellular and molecular research, the exact mechanisms linking genes, brains, and cognition remain elusive. In relation to cognition, it is unlikely that genetic and environmental risk factors function in a vacuum, but rather interact and cluster together. The purpose of the present study was to examine whether aspects of individual socioeconomic status (SES) explain the cognitive genotype-phenotype association, and whether neighborhood SES modifies the effects of genes and individual SES on cognitive ability. Using data from non-Hispanic White participants in the 2016 wave of the Health and Retirement Study, a national sample of United States adults, we examined links between a polygenic score for general cognition and performance-based cognitive functioning. In a series of weighted linear regressions and formal tests of mediation, we observed a significant genotype-phenotype association that was partially attenuated after including individual education to the baseline model, although little reductions were observed for household wealth or census tract-level percent poverty. These findings suggest that genetic risk for poor cognition is partially explained by education, and this pathway is not modified by poverty-level of the neighborhood.


NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Social Science & Medicine. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Social Science & Medicine, volume 283, in 2021.

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