Respect Equality

Low-wage workers may experience faster decline in memory

“Our research provides new evidence that sustained exposure to low wages during peak earning years is associated with accelerated memory decline later in life.”
(AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)

Story at a glance


  • Researchers used records from the national Health and Retirement Study for the years 1992-2016, analyzing data from 2,879 individuals born between 1936 and 1941. 

  • The team then created three categories to classify wage histories based on earnings between 1992 and 2004 before examining the relationship between wages and memory decline over the next 12 years. 

  • Compared to workers who never earned low wages, those whose earnings were consistently low experienced a faster memory decline equaling about one excess year of cognitive aging, according to the study.

People who work for persistently low wages may experience a faster decline in memory later in life, according to a new study.  

“Our research provides new evidence that sustained exposure to low wages during peak earning years is associated with accelerated memory decline later in life,” said Katrina Kezios, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Epidemiology at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health and first author. 

Researchers used records from the national Health and Retirement Study for the years 1992-2016, analyzing data from data from 2,879 individuals born between 1936 and 1941. 

The team then created three categories to classify wage histories based on earnings between 1992 and 2004 before examining the relationship between wages and memory decline over the next 12 years. 

Compared to workers who never earned low wages, those whose earnings were consistently low experienced a faster memory decline equaling about one excess year of cognitive aging, according to the study. 

The findings were presented Tuesday at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference 2022 Promoting Diverse Perspectives: Addressing Health Disparities Related to Alzheimer’s and All Dementias. 

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“Our findings suggest that social policies that enhance the financial well-being of low-wage workers may be especially beneficial for cognitive health,” said senior author Adina Zeki Al Hazzouri, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia University. 

“Future work should rigorously examine the number of dementia cases and excess years of cognitive aging that could be prevented under different hypothetical scenarios that would increase the minimum hourly wage.” 

The federal minimum wage has been $7.25 per hour since 2009, according to the research.