Institute of Epidemiology & Health Care


Sex differences and the role of education in cognitive ageing

9 February 2021

A new paper, which included data from the Whitehall II study, found that historical inequalities in levels of education were partially responsible for differences in cognitive ageing between men and women, potentially contributing to sex disparities in dementia risk.

Elderly couple walking

Using combined data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA) and the Whitehall II study, the researchers assessed the impact of education and birth on differences in both ‘memory’ and ‘fluency’ trajectories of 15,924 participants born between 1930 and 1955.

Lead author, Mikaela Bloomberg (UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health), said: “Our findings suggest that among people educated in the first half of the 20th century, gender inequalities in access to education led to lower education levels among women and this likely negatively impacted cognitive ageing and therefore increased the risk of dementia for women. Our study suggests this might change in the future, as disparities in access to education decrease, highlighting the importance of equitable access to education for health, particularly in countries where access to education for women and girls is still limited”.

The Study has been published in The Lancet Public Health:

Sex differences and the role of education in cognitive ageing: analysis of two UK-based prospective cohort studies

Some links to media coverage:

Daily Mail: Women over 75 could be at more risk of dementia than men of the same generation because they are less likely to have finished school

The Telegraph: Older women at greater risk of dementia due poor access to education, study suggests