Gender disparity in late-life cognitive functioning in India: findings from the longitudinal aging study in India

OBJECTIVES: To examine gender disparities in cognitive functioning in India and the extent to which education explains this disparity in later life. METHODS: This study uses baseline interviews of a prospective cohort study of 1,451 community-residing adults 45 years of age or older in four geographically diverse states of India (Karnataka, Kerala, Punjab, Rajasthan). Data collected during home visits includes cognitive performance tests, and rich sociodemographic, health, and psychosocial variables. The cognitive performance tests include episodic memory, numeracy, and a modified version of the Mini-Mental State Examination. RESULTS: We find gender disparity in cognitive function in India, and this disparity is greater in the north than the south. We also find that gender disparities in educational attainment, health, and social and economic activity explain the female cognitive disadvantage in later life. DISCUSSION: We report significant gender disparities in cognitive functioning among older Indian adults, which differ from gender disparities in cognition encountered in developed countries. Our models controlling for education, health status, and social and economic activity explain the disparity in southern India but not the region-specific disparity in the northern India. North Indian women may face additional sources of stress associated with discrimination against women that contribute to persistent disadvantages in cognitive functioning at older ages.