Life course work-family sequences and cognitive function among women in the Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe
Long-term exposure to the stress and stimulation of different work, parenting, and partnership combinations may influence later life cognition. This study investigated the relationship between women’s work-family life histories and cognitive functioning in later life. Analyses were based on data from women in 14 European countries born between 1930 and 1957 from the Survey of Health, Aging, and Retirement in Europe (2004-9). Multichannel sequence analysis identified five distinct work-family typologies based on women’s work, partnership, and child-rearing statuses between ages 12 and 50. Multilevel regressions tested the association between work-family histories and later life cognition. Partnered mothers who mainly worked full- or part-time had the best cognitive function in later life, adjusting for age. Partnered mothers who were mainly unpaid caregivers or did other unpaid activities had cognitive scores that were significantly lower than those of full-time working mothers. Findings are robust to adjustment for childhood advantage and formal educational attainment. This study provides new evidence that long-term exposures to certain social role combinations after childhood and schooling are linked to later life cognition, and we discuss the importance of welfare state arrangements for these patterns.

Sarah Burgard is a Professor of Sociology and Epidemiology at the University of Michigan. She earned her PhD in sociology and MS in epidemiology at UCLA. She conducts research on the social stratification of aging and health with population-based survey data, and has published extensively on the social factors underlying health disparities by socioeconomic status, gender, and race/ethnicity across the life course. She has focused particularly on the links between employment and health in later life, including mental health, chronic disease and overall health status, and health behaviors. She studies the ways employment and other social roles like parenting constrain and enable women and men in their pursuit of financial security and well being. Some of her recent research and funding has centered on understanding these questions in the context of economic recessions, which disrupt career, economic, and health paths for many adults, but especially for socioeconomically-marginalized groups. She is a recent PI of the Americans’ Changing Lives Study and the Michigan Recession and Recovery Study, a panel survey of adults in Southeast Michigan that has been tracking the health and mental health of these individuals in the wake of the Great Recession of 2007-2009. Using these data, she has published on the reciprocal associations between employment insecurity and instability and health, and as well as on the influences of financial shocks, debt, housing instability, and material hardship, with a focus on creating life course measures of cumulative disadvantage for which retrospective or prospective life history data are essential. She is also a PI of the NIA-funded Network on Life Course Health Dynamics and Disparities in 21st Century America.

Faculty host: Cameron Campbell (
Speaker(s) Prof Sarah Burgard
University of Michigan
Date 15 Nov 2019 (Friday)
Time 12:00 - 1:30 pm
Venue Dean’s suite, Room 3360 (Lifts 13-15), Academic Building, HKUST
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
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