Subjective Social Status Predicts Late-Life Memory Trajectories through Both Mental and Physical Health Pathways

Background: Subjective social status (SSS) is associated with mental and physical health, independent of objective socioeconomic status (SES), but its association with late-life cognitive decline is unknown. Objective: This study characterizes the association between SSS and late-life memory trajectories in a large, nationally representative sample of older adults in the United States. Methods: Using data from 8,530 participants aged 65 years and older in the Health and Retirement Study, structural equation models tested associations between SSS, objective SES (i.e., educational attainment, occupation, income, and wealth), physical and mental health, and 6-year memory trajectories, controlling for sociodemographic characteristics. Results: Independent of objective SES, lower SSS was associated with worse initial memory but not subsequent memory decline. The association between SSS and initial memory was separately mediated by chronic diseases, stroke, and depressive symptoms. Conclusion: Results provide preliminary behavioral evidence for the deleterious effects of social stress on cognitive aging. These results may help inform the development of policies and interventions to reduce cognitive morbidity among older adults who perceive a low position on the social hierarchy.