What shapes cognition, health and mortality in older ages


Cognitive abilities decline with age. This decline has considerable implications for human interactions, economic choices, and the quality of life. Cognitive abilities are also closely related to health, with a smooth transition from age-related general cognitive decline to cognition-related illness. Dementia, as an example of a cognitive decline in its most drastic form, strongly and increasingly affects many parts of society, ranging from families to the health- and long-term-care systems. Nowadays, it also ranks among the top reasons of mortality. Cognition, health, and mortality are also related in theoretical models of health production. Ever since the seminal work of Grossman (1972), economists thought about the formation of human and health capital as an interrelated process, where the latent human capital is intrinsically related to cognitive abilities.

One of the many possible contributions of the economic literature on this issue is to study how institutional settings and individual choices influence this age-related cognitive and health decline. In this project we empirically study socio-economic determinants of cognition, health and mortality with a focus on education, retirement and their interactions. We also study how genetic disposition and other choices like child childhood vaccination affect cognition and mortality. We use microeconometric estimation techniques and natural experiments for identification in order to study the following questions:

  1. What is the effect of retirement on cognitive abilities and health? Are individuals who choose to retire early affected differently than those who retire later in life?
  2. What is the effect of education on cognition and health as well as mortality? How much of this effect operates through labor-force participation later in life?
  3. How do education and genetic disposition interact in generating effects on cognition as well as mortality? Can education compensate for differences in genetic endowment or do education policies reinforce genetic gradients in cognitive abilities?
  4. Can genetic endowment explain differences in retirement behavior and different effects of retirement on cognition by this different retirement behavior?
  5. Do childhood vaccinations affect cognition later in life?

We mainly use German data, in particular the NAKO Gesundheitsstudie und administrative data from the Rentenversicherung. For analyses with genetic data, we use the Health and Retirement Study and the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing.

Key Facts

Project duration:
10/2023 - 09/2026
Funded by:

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Principal Investigators

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Prof. Dr. Hendrik Schmitz

Center of International Economics

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Project Team

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Verena Bade

Statistik und Quantitative Methoden der Empirischen Wirtschaftsforschung

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Dr. Valentin Schiele

Statistik und Quantitative Methoden der Empirischen Wirtschaftsforschung

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